Japan plans to fund defense projects of friendly nations such as Philippines 

TOKYO — Japan on Wednesday said it plans to offer friendly nations financial assistance to help them bolster their defenses, marking Tokyo’s first unambiguous departure from rules that forbid using international aid for military purposes. 

Japan’s Overseas Security Assistance (OSA) will be operated separately from the Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) program that for decades has funded roads, dams and other civilian infrastructure projects, 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,” a statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday said.  

The aid will not be used to buy lethal weapons that recipient countries could use in conflicts with other nations in accordance with the three principles that govern arms exports, according to the statement. 

Specific projects are expected to include satellite communication and radio systems for maritime surveillance, and preparations are underway for the first aid to be finalized within this fiscal year, the foreign ministry said. 

The Philippines and Bangladesh are likely to be included as the first recipients of the aid, a government source involved in talks said to Reuters. 

Japan is considering providing radars to the Philippines to help it monitor Chinese activity in the contested South China Sea, and also weighing Fiji and Malaysia as potential recipients of the aid, the Yomiuri newspaper reported on Monday.  

In principle, only developing countries will be eligible to receive the aid given 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 military buildup that will double defence spending within five years as it looks to counter China’s growing military might in Asia.  

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 in the new strategy. 

Japan has also been ramping up its outreach to 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 countries in South and Southeast Asia. — Reuters