Japan will allow the sale of advanced air defense systems to the United States to help bolster American military stockpiles at a time when Washington is continuing to support Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion.
The move by Tokyo follows a change in Japan’s restrictions on the export of weapons, rules that have been in place for most of the post-World War II era. After a meeting of Japan’s National Security Council on Friday, Yoshimasa Hayashi, the chief cabinet secretary, told reporters that the country could now sell Patriot missiles made under license from American companies.
Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe first relaxed some export restrictions in 2014, but the rules still prevented Japan from transferring lethal weapons to regions in conflict, and they limited sales of licensed equipment to parts rather than complete systems.
With the rule change, Japan can now sell American-designed Patriot missiles made in Japan to the U.S. government. The air defense systems are manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries under a license from the American manufacturers Raytheon and Lockheed Martin.
“This decision has a significant meaning to strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance,” Mr. Hayashi said in a news briefing on Friday evening. “And it will contribute to Japan and the Indo-Pacific region’s peace and stability.”
Experts said that Japan’s move, together with efforts by South Korea to sell arms to Poland, a close ally of Ukraine, could help to strengthen deterrence in the region by proving to North Korea and China that democratic allies across the Pacific are building a global arms supply chain.
“If we succeed in creating such a supply chain, then our potential adversaries would think, ‘Wow, the U.S., Japan, South Korea and Taiwan would have plenty of weapons and munitions and missiles to fight against them,’” said Narushige Michishita, a professor of international relations at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo. “And they would be discouraged from attacking us in the first place.”
Japan stipulated that the Patriot missile batteries were meant for use within the Indo-Pacific region and could not be sent directly to Ukraine or to other regions in conflict. But by helping to shore up American inventories, the Japanese-made missile systems could replace those that are sent by the U.S. to Ukraine.
“I don’t think the U.S. really needs Patriots for themselves,” said Tsuneo Watanabe, senior research fellow at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation in Tokyo. “But, clearly, they need several things for helping Ukraine.”