TOKYO, April 5 (Reuters) – Japan on Wednesday said it plans to offer countries financial assistance to help them bolster their defences, marking its first unambiguous departure from rules that forbid the use of international aid for military purposes.
Japan’s Overseas Security Assistance (OSA) will be managed separately from the Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) programme that for decades has funded roads, dams and other civilian infrastructure, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said at a regular news conference.
“By enhancing their security and deterrence capabilities, OSA aims to deepen our security cooperation with the countries, to create a desirable security environment for Japan,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
The change comes as Japan undertakes its biggest military build-up since World War Two in a marked shift away the pacifism that is set out in its constitution and has dominated its political discourse for decades.
Any aid under the new arrangement will not be used to buy lethal weapons that recipients could use in conflicts with other countries in accordance with three principles that govern arms exports, the foreign ministry said.
Specific projects are expected to include satellite communication and radio systems for maritime surveillance, and preparations are underway for the first aid to be finalised within this fiscal year, the ministry said.
The first recipients will likely be the Philippines, Malaysia, Bangladesh, or Fiji. The foreign ministry opened a bid on Wednesday to start an OSA feasibility study in those countries, with an eye on strengthening their maritime security.
Japan is considering providing radars to the Philippines to help it monitor Chinese activity in the contested South China Sea, the Yomiuri newspaper reported on Monday.
In principle, only developing countries will be eligible for the aid given that it will be provided as grants, according to the foreign ministry.
The decision to expand the scope of international aid to military-related projects follows Japan’s announcement in December of a doubling of defence spending in five years as it looks to counter China’s growing military might.
Following on from the overhaul of its military strategy, there is growing momentum over the easing of Japan’s arms export ban. The ruling coalition is looking to start working-level discussions in late April over loosening the current arms export restrictions, according to broadcaster TBS, in line with similar suggestions made under the new strategy.
Japan has also been increasing its contacts with developing nations in an effort to counter China. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced a $75 billion investment across the Indo-Pacific in March as he seeks to forge stronger ties with South and Southeast Asia.
Reporting by Tim Kelly, Yukiko Toyoda, Sakura Murakami, and Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by Tom Hogue, Christian Schmollinger and Raju Gopalakrishnan