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Japan to relax arms export control laws
Updated: 2004-12-04 16:37

Japan is considering relaxing its arms export laws to give itself leeway to deploy a missile defense system being developed with the United States and negotiate defense contracts with other nations, a newspaper reported Saturday.

The revisions _ part of a sweeping defense plan for next fiscal year _ would be the first since Japan in 1967 banned weapons shipments to communist bloc nations, countries under United Nations arms embargoes or those engaged in conflicts.

Easing the restrictions would mainly free up Japan and the United States to jointly develop and produce a system to intercept a missile strike by a foreign power, the national Asahi newspaper said.

Government and ruling Liberal Democratic Party officials agreed to submit the plan for Cabinet approval on Thursday, it said.

Defense and Cabinet officials couldn't be reached for comment Saturday.

Japan is in the midst of a major defense review prompted by concerns over possible terrorist attacks and a potential threat from North Korea.

The North has become one of Tokyo's biggest security worries, after test-firing a long-range ballistic missile over Japan in 1998 and attempting to build nuclear weapons.

According to Japanese media, the new defense plan, lasting from April 1, 2005, through 2009, will include plans to research and develop a long-range missile _ an apparent reversal of Japan's post-World War II policy to maintain only a defensive military.

Japan's postwar pacifist constitution renounces war and the use of military force in settling international disputes. Asian countries invaded by Japan's wartime military are concerned that Tokyo's efforts to adopt a more assertive defense policy could augur a revival of militarism.

Japanese forces possess short-range missiles under a defensive policy that falls within government interpretations of the constitution.

But with a long-range weapon, Japan would have the capability of making a pre-emptive strike in foreign territory, raising concerns of a shift toward a more assertive military policy.

Japanese defense contractors recently have pushed hard for changes to the arms export laws, which prevent them from doing work for US and European defense companies.

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