Japan has allegedly shown interest in joining a NATO missile building consortium so Tokyo can take part in a multinational defense project.

The US supports a plan that could enable Japan to lead similar alliances in Asia, according to a report.

In May, Japanese naval officers traveled to a NATO meeting in The Hague to get more information about the 12-country consortium, which oversees development and shares the costs of the US-made SeaSparrow missile, Japan’s navy and a US source familiar with the trip told Reuters. The advanced ship-borne short-range weapon is designed to destroy anti-ship sea-skimming missiles and attack aircraft.

Two Japanese sources familiar with the initiative said that while discussions in Tokyo were at an early stage, joining the consortium would go hand in hand with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s expanding military agenda. Earlier this year, Tokyo approved its largest military budget in 70 years, raising it to nearly 5 trillion yen (US$42 billion). Last year, Japan lifted a self-imposed four-decade ban on selling weapons. The new export guidelines will “help maintain global peace and security,” the government said, according to the Japan Times.

The NATO Seasparrow Consortium, established in 1968, is set to develop an upgraded version of the SeaSparrow.
Should Japan join in, the project’s costs would be further reduced. Besides, according to the US source cited by Reuters, the Pentagon sees a role for Japan in leading multinational military industrial partnerships in Asia to counterbalance China’s continuing rise. It’s believed that such partnerships, which are almost nonexistant in Asia, could help set up a network of security ties operating beyond formal military alliances.

“We think this project will allow Japan to lay the groundwork for further defense export programs in the future,” the US source told Reuters. “We would welcome this kind of security cooperation activity by Japan in the region.”

The Japanese Navy already uses the SeaSparrow missile, assembled by Mitsubishi Electric in Japan under a co-production agreement with NATO and the US manufacturers. Therefore, Japan’s potential transition to a full consortium partner would not be difficult to make, the US source told Reuters.

In May, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet approved legislation authorizing Japan to expand its military capacity beyond self-defense, enabling it to play a greater international role.

If passed into law, the bills would overturn a pacifist constitution signed by Japan after its defeat in World War II, which banned the use of force as a means of settling international disputes.

One of the experts, Waseda University professor Yasuo Hasebe, who was invited to address the parliament in June, warned that the legislation would “considerably damage the legal stability” of the nation, violating Japan’s post-World War II pacifist constitution, according to The Los Angeles Times.

The Japanese public has also slammed the proposed bills, calling them “war legislation” aimed at turning Japan toward militarism. Many say the legislation would nullify nearly 70 years of Tokyo’s efforts to regain international trust.

The move by Abe’s cabinet has also been negatively viewed by South Korea and China.

“We hope that Japan can earnestly learn the lessons of history, uphold the path of peaceful development…and play a constructive role in this Asian region,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying stated in May.

However, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe implied that Tokyo is not going to reiterate an apology for WWII aggression and war crimes. Speaking to Fuji TV in late April, Abe said there would be no more apologies to the victims of Japanese aggression during WWII. This is a direct contradiction of Abe’s predecessors, who issued apologies for the country’s notorious conduct during the Second World War.

Abe’s private visit to the Yasukuni war shrine in Tokyo in December 2013 provoked outrage from China and South Korea, the countries Japan occupied until defeat in 1945. Among the 2.4 million war dead honored at the shrine are internationally-recognized war criminals, who committed atrocities on the occupied territories.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are also considering the introduction of an overseas intelligence network, possibly modeled on Britain’s MI6 spy agency, the first of its kind since World War II, Reuters reported in March. When the Allied forces defeated Japan 70 years ago, they also demolished its intelligence apparatus, which had allowed Tokyo to become a self-reliant Asian powerhouse at the time. This left Tokyo largely dependent upon the intelligence work of other nations, notably the United States. The current stance in Japanese political circles is that the nation must reassert itself in the international spying arena.

Relations between Japan and China have been soured by a territorial row over a group of islands in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. Japan, the US and their allies have been demanding that China stops construction of artificial islands located near potential undersea reserves of oil and gas. Beijing claims most of the sea as its own, saying it is historically Chinese. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also say parts of the area belong to them. According to China, Washington has been adding fuel to the fire by backing other countries with territorial claims to the sea.

Japan and the Philippines agreed on an exchange of military technology and hardware in June. In May, Tokyo gave the go-ahead for talks on transfers of defense equipment and technology with Malaysia.

Japan has also recently joined the bidding race to develop and build a new generation of submarines for Australia. If Japan gets the green light as a joint development partner, it would be the first instance of the nation selling technology directly related to weaponry since Tokyo approved new principles on the export of weapons and arms-related science in April, the Asahi Shimbun reported.

Washington has been putting its weight behind the idea of cooperation between Australia and Japan, backing the Japanese-built submarine packed with US surveillance, radar and weapons equipment, sources told Reuters last month.


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