Arms show offers Japan venue to build military ties in Southeast Asia

By Reuters/Tim Kelly, Nobuhiro Kubo   June 11, 2017 | 12:36 am PT
Arms show offers Japan venue to build military ties in Southeast Asia
A man looks at models of missiles during an aerospace show in Tokyo, Japan in October 2016. Photo by Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Japan has invited military representatives from Vietnam and its Southeast Asian neighbors to a special seminar following the three-day arms show.

Defense firms will put out their wares on Monday at Japan's only dedicated arms show, a site for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government to promote industrial military ties that will bolster the country's influence in Southeast Asia.

Japan's defense ministry has invited Southeast Asian military representatives from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam to a separate military technology seminar, aiming to ensure attendance for the three-day Maritime Air Systems and Technologies Asia (MAST) show near Tokyo, two sources said.

"The Ministry of Defense is hosting the seminar right after MAST closes," said one of the sources with knowledge of the plan.

Abe's government wants to make arms sales and military technology collaboration a new plank of Japanese diplomacy in Southeast Asia as it counters China's growing influence in the South China Sea, which Vietnam calls the East Sea.

About $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes through the strategic waterway each year, much of it to and from Japan.

In 2014, Abe ended a decades-old arms export ban, partly to cut procurement costs by widening arms production, but also, for the first time since World War Two, to allow Japan to offer arms technology as a lure for closer military ties.

The small Southeast Asian arms market is growing as economic growth boosts defense spending. Japan is likely push to back against China's offers to supply military equipment to the region.

"The only thing that really matters in Southeast Asia is cost and China will offer at low cost," said Paul Burton, director of aerospace, defense and security at IHS Markit in Singapore.

"They will quite happily give away the family jewels in terms of enabling indigenous production, training the local workforce and offset into other sectors."

Less reluctant

In their first outing at MAST Asia in 2015 Japanese firms were still reluctant to advertise their defense work to a public wary of any return to militarism. Only NEC Corp exhibited alone, with other firms clustering together in a single display.

That hesitation seems to have eased. At least 16 Japanese firms are exhibiting alone, from leading arms maker Mitsubishi Heavy Industries , to the maker of the sub-hunting P-1 patrol jet, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, and ShinMaywa Industries, which builds the US-2 amphibious plane.

"We intend to showcase our wide range of products and technologies to event participants," said a spokesman for Mitsubishi Heavy.

Showcased items include a guided missile destroyer display, a prototype amphibious vehicle model, minehunting technology and demonstrations of a laser radar surveillance system.

The three-day show will include overseas exhibitors, such as F-35 stealth fighter maker Lockheed Martin Corp and France's Thales SA, and will have double the floor space of the 2015 event, a spokeswoman for the organizer said.

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