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Japan LDP seeks to end ban on defence use of space

Written by: Staff

Tokyo, Mar 28: Japan's ruling party is moving to end a decades-old ban on military involvement in space development, a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker said today.

Members of a party panel on space development said involvement of the armed forces, such as building military satellites, would boost Japan's space industry while improving the country's ability to defend itself.

''I think it would be fair to say that this would fundamentally change Japan's space development,'' panel member Katsuyuki Kawai told reporters of the proposed change.

''Japan has fallen behind,'' he added.

A bill that would relax the regulations and allow non-aggressive military use of space will be presented to parliament next year, the daily Yomiuri Shimbun said yesterday.

But the LDP will need to secure the support of its junior coalition partner, the Buddhist-backed New Komeito, to ensure the bill passes the upper house of parliament, where it lacks a majority.

Japan's armed forces are currently prohibited from involvement in space development under a strict interpretation of a 1969 parliamentary resolution limiting the use of space to peaceful purposes.

Space development officials have long said this puts Japan at a disadvantage compared with other countries, such as Russia and the United States, where technology developed for military purposes often then filters down to the commercial market.

The regulation has also affected the quality of information available to Japan's armed forces, who are not permitted to develop their own satellites.

Unnerved by a North Korean missile fired over Japan in 1998, the country launched two spy satellites in 2003 to keep an eye on its neighbour, but they offer levels of resolution far lower than those of military satellites operated by other countries.

An attempt to launch a further two intelligence satellites later the same year had to be aborted, an embarrassing failure for Japan, when rival China has carried out manned space flights -- something Japan has never attempted.

Japan has been stretching the boundaries of its post-war pacifist constitution in various ways, notably by sending troops to Iraq, in what was seen as the armed forces' most dangerous overseas mission since World War Two.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has been struggling for cash in recent years - its head said last year that the agency faced collapse if the government continued to cut funding. Media reports said the agency was planning to seek private backing for some projects.


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