Japan’s LDP, Komeito Split Over Expanding Defense Item Exports

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Former Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, back right, and Shigeki Sato, left, who chairs Komeito’s foreign relations and national security committee, attend a working team meeting at the Diet on Wednesday.

The Liberal Democratic Party and its ruling coalition partner Komeito have divergent views over easing restrictions on defense equipment exports, and a final document on the issue — a summary of which was compiled Wednesday — is expected to contain differing perspectives.

The government aims to create a “desirable security environment” by expanding exports. But with the LDP eyeing significant expansion and Komeito taking a cautious view, attention is now focused on how Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will view the summary in terms of his future decisions.

Unbridgeable gap

“I hope comprehensive discussions will help settle on a single direction,” said former Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera — an LDP member who chairs a working team on the matter — during a meeting of the group.

Onodera’s remark reflects the LDP’s eagerness to integrate both parties’ views as soon as possible with an eye on pushing the government to expand exports of destroyers, fighter jets and other equipment.

Exporting defense equipment to like-minded countries that share such values as the rule of law will help deepen security cooperation with Japan and deter China. The National Security Strategy, which was revised last December, states that defense equipment exports are “a key policy instrument to ensure peace and stability.” Developing overseas markets also is essential to rebuilding the declining domestic defense industry.

But the government’s Implementation Guidelines of the Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology, which limit the fields in which exports can be made, remains a major barrier.

Under the guidelines, defense equipment and technologies are allowed to be exported for the following five purposes: rescue, transportation, vigilance, surveillance and minesweeping.

To date, only one finished product has been shipped — a defense radar dispatched to the Philippines. Both the LDP and Komeito recognize that the situation must be reviewed, and the scope of relaxations has become an agenda issue.

At the team’s previous meetings, the LDP insisted that the five categories should be eliminated. For its part, however, Komeito, which calls itself the “party of peace,” has maintained a position of limiting the revision to adding such categories as “demining” to the list.

Another agenda item at Wednesday’s meeting was how to deal with equipment developed jointly with other countries, with a Japan-U.K.-Italy next-generation fighter jet in mind. Japan hopes to pave the way for exports to like-minded countries in the Indo-Pacific region.

The United Kingdom and Italy can export the aircraft to third countries with Japan’s prior consent, but the jet cannot be exported directly from Japan. The LDP is enthusiastic about exporting directly from Japan, though Komeito is cautious. The gap between the two parties remains deep on this point, too.

The working team plans to hold a meeting Friday to decide on the summary. However, discussions on bridging the gap could be delayed until this autumn or later.

“It would be best to avoid drawing any in-depth conclusions before the dissolution of the House of Representatives, which could take place in autumn,” a Komeito official said.

Meanwhile, in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an LDP official opined, “We shouldn’t stick to ‘one-party pacifism’ forever.”

Onodera bowed out of the meeting early and headed to the Prime Minister’s Office where he briefed Kishida on proceedings.

Ultimately, the matter will likely be down to Kishida’s viewpoint, but “significant progress cannot be expected unless the prime minister explains to the public the significance of the transfer of defense equipment,” a government official said.