Japan’s cabinet greenlights the export of new fighter jets in a policy shift

Japan’s cabinet has given the green light to the export of cutting-edge fighter jets developed jointly with the UK and Italy, marking a significant departure from its long-standing pacifist stance. The decision comes amidst a gradual relaxation of arms export regulations, permitting the sale of these aircraft to nations with which Japan has defence agreements, provided there are no active conflicts.

Citing growing concerns over regional security threats posed by China and North Korea, Japan has committed to doubling its military expenditure by 2027. However, each sale of the advanced fighter jets will still require approval from the cabinet, emphasizing the cautious approach taken by authorities.

The collaboration, known as the Tempest project, was initiated in December 2022, aiming to develop fighter jets equipped with artificial intelligence and state-of-the-art sensors to enhance pilot capabilities. These aircraft are anticipated to be operational by 2035, marking Tokyo’s first venture into defence equipment development with a partner other than the US.

The timing of this decision aligns with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s upcoming visit to the US in April, where he is expected to reaffirm Tokyo’s strong alliance with Washington and its willingness to engage in defence partnerships. Kishida emphasised the necessity of exporting warplanes to third countries to bolster Japan’s credibility as a reliable partner in future international defence endeavors.

While government spokesman Yoshimasa Hayashi stressed the importance of enhancing national security through the development of essential defence capabilities, Defence Minister Minoru Kihara reiterated Japan’s commitment to its pacifist principles. Kihara emphasised that the nation would adhere to rigorous decision-making processes for exports, underscoring Japan’s cautious approach to defence exports.

The move signals a significant shift for Japan, which has maintained a pacifist stance for over 75 years following World War II. The country’s post-war constitution renounces war and prohibits the use of force to settle international disputes, with strict limitations on its military capabilities. However, recent policy changes reflect Japan’s evolving security concerns and its willingness to play a more active role in defence cooperation with international partners.

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