Japan wants to sell air defence radar equipment to the Philippines

TOKYO - Japan has offered to sell an air defence system to the Philippines in a deal which, if sealed, would be the first time Tokyo is exporting military equipment since a 50-year ban was lifted in 2014.

Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana confirmed the sales pitch on Thursday (Dec 13) when he told reporters that it was "one of the platforms being evaluated by the Philippine Air Force".

Japan's Nikkei daily, which broke the story last week (Dec 8), said Tokyo was offering an upgraded model of the Mitsubishi Electric FPS-3 air defence radar system to Manila for between 1 billion yen ($12.1 million) and 2 billion yen.

The Philippine government is due to make a decision early next year on the acquisition of the equipment, which will be used to monitor aircraft and vessels in Philippine territory.

Japan sees the Philippines as a key security partner as a counterweight to China's assertiveness in the South China Sea, and has extended capacity-building assistance and taken part in military exchanges with Manila. Japanese armoured vehicles were involved in a joint military exercise with US and Filipino troops in October, the first time they had been deployed on foreign soil since World War II.

Tokyo's latest sales pitch follows several failed bids to sell its military equipment including, most notably, an Australian contract worth A$50 billion in 2016 to build a fleet of 12 submarines, despite being seen as the front runner for the deal.

France won the bid but negotiations between Paris and Canberra have stalled and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said in October that Tokyo was still keen to sell the subs to Australia if the talks were to collapse.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, while bound by a pacifist Constitution, has sought to pursue a more muscular security agenda. The lifting of the ban on arms exports followed his vision of "proactive contribution to peace" which, he said, could lead to Japan benefiting from an improved security environment due to its own international outreach.

Kobe University security expert Tosh Minohara told The Straits Times: "By exporting arms, Japan can advance its military ties with other countries beyond just overseas development assistance (ODA). This can lead to more interactions and more dialogue."