The Japanese government told ruling parties that lethal weapons could be exported for specific non-combat purposes, party members said, as working group discussions resumed Wednesday on relaxing the nation's strict defense equipment transfer rules.

Under Japan's "three principles" covering defense equipment and technology transfers, the government has allowed the export of lethal weapons only to countries that are jointly developing or producing defense equipment.

A working group of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition ally Komeito meet at a Diet building in Tokyo on Aug. 23, 2023. (Kyodo)

The export of non-lethal equipment, meanwhile, has been permitted to nations collaborating with Tokyo on security and for use in five non-combat domains -- rescue, transportation, vigilance, surveillance, and minesweeping.

This perspective, however, was expanded on Wednesday when the government clarified that lethal weaponry can be exported as long as the purpose falls within the five non-combat areas.

The working group discussions on easing the defense equipment transfer principles have been taking place since April, with Japan seeking to bolster its domestic defense industry and better respond to the severe security environment while also hoping to expand support for countries under military invasion, such as Ukraine.

The ruling coalition parties are set to support the government's new policies following further discussions.

The government is also considering allowing the export of co-developed defense equipment to third parties, a move particularly aimed at facilitating the shipment of next-generation fighter jets being developed in collaboration with Britain and Italy.

The move comes amid concerns that Japan would be at a disadvantage if it were the only country unable to export the fighter jets, while Britain and Italy could.

Meanwhile, some lawmakers of Komeito, known for its dovish stance on defense issues, have been wary that selling weapons overseas could exacerbate armed conflicts and run counter to Japan's postwar pacifist Constitution.

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