Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about Japan’s difficulties in becoming an arms exporter. The gist of the piece is that there is still a certain reluctance to call a spade a spade, and thus arms sales are spun as being something different that what they inherently are, which is selling weapons that will eventually be used for destructive purposes. In most cases, such transactions are expressed as business deals that take advantage of Japan’s storied tech superiority—a claim that doesn’t hold as much water as it used to, especially with all the recent scandals pointing to fraudulent inspection practices that seem to affect all industries in Japan.
One way of pushing this narrative is to deploy the “dual use” explanation. It’s a kind of cliche that many inventions originally developed for military purposes are now part of our everyday lives, enriching them in the process. Japan, however, has flipped this narrative. As journalist Isoko Mochizuki once explained on an edition of Bunka Hoso’s “Golden Radio” program, Japan’s collaborative research programs into military-use technologies often start out as research into commercial technologies. This way, universities and other non-government institutions that carry out research can claim they are not taking part in military developments, though, in the end, the technologies they create will end up in military hardware. A place where this kind of technology was on display was the MAST Asia defense conference held in Yokohama in 2015, where most of the participating Japanese manufacturers promoted the civilian uses of their products. The fact that they were being shown and demonstrated at what was basically an arms conference, however, made it clear who the ultimate buyers were supposed to be. As Mochizuki explained, there were no actual weapons on display, only trasportation and logistical equipment. For example, Fujitsu was pushing its display panels for night-time use, items that were ostensibly developed for commercial sale but had obvious military applications. The MAST conference was a huge success, and there was another one earlier this year held in Chiba.
But the nervousness over any image related to military ties is strong. Yesterday, Asahi Shimbun reported that Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group would not extend credit to any company that manufactured cluster bombs, “regardless of whether the purpose of the credit is related to cluster bomb manufacturing or not,” after reports surfaced earlier this year showing how specific financial firms throughout the world funded such manufacture. It would have been interesting if Asahi or some other media outlet had looked into the conduits between MUFG and weapons makers in more detail, but as far as I can see no one has.