Japan yesterday lifted a self-imposed ban on weapons exports, introducing new rules for the arms trade that supporters say will boost Tokyo's global role, but which unnerved China.
The cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved a new plan that replaces the 1967 blanket ban, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.
Under the new policy, arms sales are banned to conflict-plagued countries or nations that could undermine international peace and security, and sales must contribute to international peace and boost officially pacifist Japan's security.
"We have made the procedure for transfer of defence equipment more transparent. That will contribute to peace and international co-operation from the standpoint of proactive pacifism," Suga said.
"And we will participate in joint development and production of defence equipment."
That pacifism was embraced by the population at large and two decades later a weapons export ban was introduced.
Supporters hope the relaxation in the policy will boost home-grown arms manufacturers at a time of a territorial row with China and fears over North Korea.
The new rules could allow Tokyo to supply weaponry to nations on important sea lanes to help fight piracy. Japanese arms could potentially be shipped to Indonesia as well as nations around the South China Sea like the Philippines, which also has a territorial dispute with Beijing.
Japan already supplies equipment to the Philippine coastguard, which is on the front line in the row with Beijing.
Any move to bolster that support with more outright weapon supplies could irk China, which regularly accuses Abe of trying to remilitarise his country.
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China was paying close attention to the relaxation of the arms ban.
"The policy changes of Japan in military and security areas concern the security environment and strategic stability of the whole region," he said.