According to six people familiar with the situation and the ruling party, in order to protect sensitive information, the Japanese government may effectively prohibit China from providing drones to its government as part of Japan’s extensive efforts to strengthen national security.
These people said that the main concerns are in information technology, supply chain, network security and intellectual property rights, and concerns outside Japan are also increasing. But Japan must balance this concern, especially the Chinese government’s increasing promotion of the export of sensitive technologies such as commercial drones and security cameras, and Japan’s heavy economic dependence on China.
“China is a huge market and very important to Japan,” said one of the senior government officials. “On the other hand, there are concerns that advanced technology and information may be leaked to China and may be diverted for military use.” The Ministry of Defense has hundreds of drones, some of which are manufactured by Chinese companies. The Coast Guard 30 units, most of them are also Chinese. Both parties stated that they are not using Chinese drones for safety-related issues. Other government agencies are also using this drone.
The revised policy stated that it is not clear whether all of them need to be replaced, but new drones used for sensitive tasks such as criminal investigations, infrastructure work and emergency rescue must ensure that data is not leaked and pass more stringent review procedures.
The tightened rules will take effect in April 2021, but no country is mentioned. But senior sources from the government and the ruling party told Reuters that they were created for China.
This initiative also includes new investment regulations for foreigners promulgated last year; legislators of the ruling party are also preparing a proposal for a comprehensive law to promote economic security, which will be announced this year.
In addition, Japan’s National Security Council (National Security Council) set up a department in April this year to study the impact of advanced technology and other economic issues on national security.
Japanese domestic drone manufacturers are expected to benefit from these changes, because it means that government agencies are likely to purchase drones in the country. A Japanese drone manufacturer, Tokyo Aircraft Instrument Co., Ltd., has developed a camera drone that can fly in strong winds, which makes it ideal for damage investigations after a disaster. The company is negotiating potential applications with the government. “The drone platform, flight control system, and radio communication equipment are all domestically produced. This is a unique model we designed based on years of experience in avionics components,” said Kazuya of the company’s drone division. Sumida) said. “We plan to further strengthen the security of drone information and communication functions.”
Of course, government sales account for only a small part of the Japanese drone business market. According to data from the Impress Research Institute, in the fiscal year ending March 2020, the Japanese drone market was 140.9 billion yen (US$1.35 billion), an increase of 51% from the previous year. In the fiscal year ending March 2026, the market is expected to grow to 642.7 billion yen.
But supporters of this measure say that its purpose is not to promote the development of local drone manufacturers, but to protect Japan’s safety. “Japan will maintain diplomatic relations with China, but we will be more cautious in dealing with sensitive technology and information,” said another senior government official.
Analysts say that even the United States cannot completely cut off ties with China, because this will harm the US economy. Tsuneo Watanabe, a senior researcher at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, said: “I think the allies will discuss key technologies, especially information and technologies that may give China a military advantage.”
Japan has allocated about 300 billion yen to diversify its supply chain and reduce its dependence on China by transferring production to the country or more in Southeast Asia.