Picture used for illustrative purposes only.
On Friday, the Japanese Cabinet had decided to lift restrictions on export of arms, and also increase its defence budget. Since the Second World War, Japan has been following self-imposed restrictions on armies and arms. Until now, Japan could only export components of weapons but it could not sell completed arms manufactures.
As a consequence, Japan can now export the Patriot missiles to the United States. Japan has been licensed to produce them from the American companies. The Japanese export of Patriot missiles to the United States will help Americans to supply them to Ukraine.
Japan cannot export them to third countries. This is indeed the roundabout way of allowing Japan to arm itself, engage in arms exports because the Americans want Japan not only to defend itself but it also wants to be the security watchdog in the Indo-Pacific.
Japan has been the closest ally of the US since the war though it is not welcomed by the rest of Indo-Pacific, especially South Korea, the south-east Asian countries because Japan had been an aggressor in these countries during the Second World War. The US has been trying to bring Japan and South Korea closer on security issues.
In the new Indo-Pacific security system as envisaged by the Americans, Japan will play a key role because of its economic strength and also because of its edge in technology. China is seen as the main adversary in the region, and the China-Japan relations follow the same patterns as that of the rest of Asia during wartime, that is there is intense resentment between the two countries. Japan is now forced to take up positions against China and against North Korea.
The decision to export arms could give a boost to the Japanese economy which has been stagnating since the 1990s. Japan could be a force to reckon with in the global arms market because of its strong technological base. The Americans surprisingly developed arms manufacturing bases in western European countries and in Japan, moving the strategic sector away from the home base. Recently, the Netherlands and Denmark had been asked by the Americans to supply F-16 fighters to Ukraine. Exporting Patriot missiles which are manufactured in Japan could be a first step towards Japan developing its own arms manufacturing base and its own weapons research. That would make it a full-fledged military power in its own right. The arming of Japan in direct and indirect ways is also to defend Taiwan, which China claims to be part of the mainland and the Americans concede that if Taiwan were to voluntarily merge with the mainland it would not object, but it feels committed to defend Taiwan if force is used by China. It is a knotty problem at its best.
China would want to avoid war and use all other methods to pressurise Taiwan to join the mainland, and the Americans with its allies in the region, which includes Japan and Australia, would keep close guard to prevent Chinese use of force in Taiwan.
Japan is still fighting shy of assuming the role of a military power in the region because it is aware of the heavy price it had paid for its militarism in the Second World War which ended with the dropping of atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, the only time nuclear weapons were used.
Japanese leaders and people have not forgotten the trauma and they would reluctant to indulge in militarism, even if it is on behalf of American military commitments in the region. But with the rise in North Korean aggression, with Japan as a target, Japan will be compelled to adopt a military strategy to repel any attack from Pyongyang.
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