by Jon Day
TOKYO, March 6 (Xinhua) -- Japan is considering revising its guidelines on weapons exports as part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe' s new defense policy with government officials saying Thursday that exports to countries involved in conflicts will still be prohibited.
The sources suggested that the new guidelines will see a semantic shift away from the term "weapons" in favor of the term "defense equipment," but such hardware would not be exported if doing so would undermine global peace and security.
The new guidelines could possibly gain Cabinet approval as early as March, with sources close to the matter claiming that the shift away from Japan's 1967 "three principles" weapons export embargo made in 1967, was purportedly to clarify Japan's current stance on the issue and avoid misunderstanding.
However, the move comes as more than 66 percent of Japan's population stand staunchly opposed to weapons exports from here of any kind, despite the new guidelines likely stating that weapons will not be exported to countries in conflicts, as defined by U.N. resolutions.
Abe has previously said that the principles of contributing to global peace will be adhered to under the U.N. Charter, but Japan' s national security strategy unveiled in December, with a budget of 230 billion U.S. dollars for the buildup of Japan's forces over the next five years, has drawn flak from a number of factions both at home and abroad.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party's junior coalition partner, New Komeito, has raised concerns that any revisions to the weapons export ban may run country to the nation's self-imposed pacifist policy and confirm suspicions that Abe is steering the nation towards a new nationalism.
The weapons ban, originally imposed in 1976, was heightened in the years thereafter in line with the nation's pacifist Constitution, although exceptions were made with weapons-related technologies being exported to the U.S. in 1983, and joint projects on anti-missile hardware were also conducted in collaboration with the U.S.
But Abe's current moves to relax the export ban, albeit semantically to dodge constitutional restraints, have drawn the ire of some Japanese politicians and citizens, as well as neighboring countries favoring Japan's long-held pacifist stance, and has ignited fresh concern and debate on the issue on political, national and international levels.
At the center of the debate is Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution which forbids the use of force as a means to settling international disputes, but also prohibits Japan from maintaining an army, navy or air force.
But Abe has vowed that Japan will maintain its pacifist stance and said that the trade ministry will examine and make a ruling on each export case on an individual basis, rather than openly selling weapons-related products in an open global market. In addition, the government has previously stated that weapons exports will be strictly limited to Japan's strategic allies, like the U.S., and that regulations on weapons exports will based on the fundamental premise that as a pacifist country Japan will aim to avoid fanning international conflicts.
However, New Komeito party leader Natsuo Yamaguchi, along with a number of opposition parties and regular citizens stand opposed to some of the latest moves by Abe's administration, which have been described by security analysts as Japan taking a more muscular approach to its defense strategy, at a time when increased diplomacy is being called for, for the sake of enhancing peace and security, especially under the current geopolitical situation in the Asia Pacific region.