BANGKOK, -- Japan and Thailand are looking into a deal that would essentially make them limited defense partners.
Tokyo is considering a contract that would allow transfers of defense equipment to Thailand and call for technological cooperation with the country, people familiar with the matter said Thursday.
Thailand is interested in the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force's P-1 patrol aircraft and US-2 large amphibious rescue aircraft.
Japan wants to get between Beijing and Thailand's military government, and the cooperation deal could serve as an effective wedge.
Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani on Tuesday will meet Prawit Wongsuwan, Thailand's deputy prime minister and defense minister, in Bangkok to discuss the defense equipment deal.
The contract, a prerequisite for exports of defense equipment from Japan, would require Thailand to get Japan's nod before transferring or using any of the supplied equipment and related technologies for purposes other than those initially set forth.
Japanese companies Kawasaki Heavy Industries and NEC in November participated in an international exhibition of defense equipment held in Bangkok that Prawit attended.
The P-1, made by Kawasaki, is used to detect submarines and other vessels. It uses NEC sound detection technology and a high-performance IHI engine. IHI is a Japanese heavy machinery specialist.
The US-2, produced by ShinMaywa Industries, is known for its advanced sea-landing capacity, low-speed flight and long range. Japan is also discussing a deal to export the aircraft to India.
Japan has one defense equipment contract with a Southeast Asian nation, the Philippines. Under the contract, Japan is to lease the MSDF's TC-90 training aircraft in expectation of search and rescue missions during disasters, humanitarian assistance runs, and warning and surveillance activities.
Japan is negotiating similar pacts with Malaysia and Indonesia.
The U.S. and Europe have put Thailand at arm's length since its military staged a coup in May 2014. Japan is concerned that China is exploiting the situation and trying to increase its influence. Some Japanese defense officials say China is trying to drive wedges of its own between members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. It also has territorial and jurisdictional disputes in the South China Sea with a number of ASEAN members.
Japan has yet to overcome a variety of hurdles for defense equipment exports to other countries. Earlier this spring it lost an Australian submarine order to France. "The loss revealed our lack of marketing experience," a senior official at Japan's Defense Ministry said.
In April 2014, Japan replaced its so-called "three principles," which in principle banned arms exports. It is now trying to export defense equipment and participate in international weapons development programs.
The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force Kawasaki P-1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft.