US Ambassador Thanks Japan for Defense Upgrade and Allowing a Patriot Missile Sale to US

surface-to-air Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile interceptor launcher vehicle in Funabashi
A member of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force stands guard next to a surface-to-air Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile interceptor launcher vehicle in Funabashi, east of Tokyo, on Jan. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File)

TOKYO — U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel praised Japan's contribution to drastic “reform and modernization” of their alliance, particularly its military capability and spending, as well as a decision to allow Japanese-made Patriot guided missiles to be shipped to the United States to make up for its decreasing inventory.

In a meeting with Japanese Defense Minister Minoru Kihara on Wednesday, Emanuel noted a series of steps Japan has taken to bolster its military power and the countries' alliance, saying it brings the “level of deterrence to capital D deterrence.”

In the latest move, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's government on Friday eased its postwar ban on lethal weapons exports, a move seen as a major break from Japan's postwar self-defense-only principle. It also approved a 16.5% increase in defense spending next year to a record 7.95 trillion-yen ($56 billion) with a focus on missile strike and defense capabilities.

The revision to the arms transfer policy allows Japan to export weapons and components made in Japan under foreign licenses to the licensing nations. It's also a first major revision of Japan’s arms export ban since an earlier easing on non-lethal weapons transfer in 2014. Kishida's government is currently in the process of further easing the policy to allow sale to third countries of jointly developed lethal weapons, like a next-generation fighter jet Japan is co-developing with Britain and Italy.

Japan on Friday quickly approved a U.S. request for shipment of surface-to-air Patriot guided missiles produced in Japan under an American license to complement U.S. inventory, prompting speculation they may be sent to Ukraine.

Kihara said Tuesday the two sides were still discussing details as officials need to carefully make production and shipment plans so “this will not make a hole in the defense of Japan."

Pacifist groups, academics and some opposition lawmakers in Japan have questioned why Tokyo is selling the Patriot missiles. Critics say it also needs to fortify its missile strike and defense capabilities to be able to cope with an increasingly assertive China.

Kihara said the Patriot shipment is intended to showcase the will and capability of the Japan-U.S. military alliance and to ensure the peace and stability of Japan. It also shows Japan does not tolerate any attempts to change the status quo of international order, he said.

Emanuel described Japan's revision to the military equipment sale policy as “a capstone to a year of reform." He said it will result in a greater inventory for the United States as well as the Indo-Pacific region.

“That's really important for a system that's under stress,” Emanuel said of the Patriot missiles, which the United States supplies to Ukraine. “So it's very helpful when we manage our inventory.” Emanuel said the shipment from Japan is only for U.S. inventory.

He said all the steps Japan has taken, from the defense spending increase to planned deployment of Tomahawks, underscore its transformation “from alliance protection to alliance projection” and that “we are very deeply appreciative.”

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