TOKYO -- The Japanese government relaxed rules on weapons exports Tuesday, ending a decades-old blanket ban at a time when it seeks to deepen security partnerships with the U.S. as well as Asian nations contending with China's maritime advances.
The new rules permit exports if rigorous reviews find that they would contribute to international peace or help strengthen Japan's security. States subject to United Nations arms embargoes are excluded.
Japan's so-called "three principles" on arms exports had prohibited sending weapons to communist countries, nations subject to U.N. sanctions, and countries involved in international conflicts.
Tokyo plans to bolster security alliances with countries other than the U.S., including Vietnam, the Philippines and India, which are located along sea lanes used by oil tankers from the Middle East and are dealing with China's growing maritime presence.
Japan is looking to export seaplanes and vessels for rescue and patrol missions. It is already in talks to sell the Maritime Self-Defense Force's US-2 amphibian rescue aircraft to India. Australia has expressed interest in Japanese submarine technology, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott scheduled to affirm cooperation in equipment during a meeting here Monday with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Having held a so-called two-plus-two meeting of foreign affairs and defense ministers in January, Japan and France will soon begin work on selecting equipment for their joint development.
The relaxed rules are expected to open up opportunities for the nation's defense industry. The global market is estimated at more than 40 trillion yen ($383 billion), compared with 1.6 trillion yen for Japan.