Japan's ruling party yesterday endorsed a defense outline that would relax the nation's arms export ban and allow development and production of a missile defense system with the US, Japanese media reported.
The reported approval by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) defense panel paves the way for today's Cabinet approval and official announcement of the new outline of Japan's defense plan for next fiscal year.
The LDP panel also approved a 3.7 percent cut in defense spending to a total of ?24.24 trillion (US$233 billion) for the next five years, following an agreement reached between the defense and finance ministries, Japanese newspapers reported.
A plan to trim the Ground Self Defense Force to 155,000 by slashing 5,000 from the current level was also approved.
The new guidelines call for an easing of Japan's arms exports ban so that the nation can jointly develop and produce a missile defense system with the US, Kyodo News reported.
Japan in 1967 banned weapons shipments to communist bloc nations, countries under UN arms embargoes or those engaged in conflicts. The ban was extended in 1976 to exports to all foreign countries.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda will make an official announcement Friday, Kyodo said. Both the LDP and the Defense Agency refused to comment on yesterday's reports.
The new defense outline, which covers a period from April 1 next year through March 31, 2009, wears away at Japan's postwar policy to maintain a self-defense-only military.
The outline singles out China and North Korea as regional security concerns, and calls for a more assertive role by the military with "prompt, mobile, multifunctional and effective defense capabilities," Kyodo said.
Japan has been reviewing its defense policy amid threats from possible terrorist attacks and North Korea. The North has become one of Tokyo's biggest security worries; it test-fired a long-range ballistic missile over Japan in 1998 and has an active nuclear weapons program.
Japan's postwar pacifist constitution renounces use of force in settling international disputes.
Japanese forces possess short-range missiles under a defensive policy that falls within government interpretations of the constitution.
In a nod to preserving that policy, Japanese leaders set aside a plan to develop long-range missiles capable of making a pre-emptive strike in foreign territory, news reports said.
The LDP's coalition partner, the Komeito party, reportedly opposed the plan.
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