TOKYO — Taking his nation another step away from its postwar pacifism, the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe discarded a half-century ban on the export of weapons and military hardware on Tuesday, a move aimed at helping Japan assume a larger regional security role to offset China’s growing military might.
The decision, which had been under consideration for years before Mr. Abe took office, replaced the self-imposed ban dating back to the late 1960s with new, still-restrictive guidelines that permit the export of weapons only to allies and partners that agree not to sell them to third nations without Japanese approval. The new guidelines will also make it easier for Japan to join multinational development projects for expensive new weapons systems, like the American-led effort to build the F-35 stealth fighter jet. …
Analysts described the decision as a step toward Mr. Abe’s goal of turning long-passive Japan, which has Asia’s second-largest economy after China, into a more proactive player in regional security. Japanese officials say Mr. Abe wants to do this by turning Japan into a full-fledged defense partner of the United States, which has guaranteed Japan’s security since the war but has recently been forced to cut military spending because of fiscal problems of its own.
American officials, who have long urged Japan to assume more of the defense burden, have said they will welcome a lifting of the ban.