Japan moves swiftly to tighten control of technology transfers

The Japanese government has moved with unusual dispatch to revamp and tighten its system of controls on technology transfers to communist nations. The incident of Toshiba Machine Co.'s illegal sale of propeller milling machines to the Soviet Union has become the catalyst for a significant revision of the legal and bureaucratic structure of export controls.

``The circumstances surrounding this incident clearly indicate that it was caused by defects in Japan's existing export control regime,'' said a special committee of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party which prepared the new legislation. The illegal sale, it stated, has ``aroused strong doubts that security interests have been given sufficient consideration in dealing with economic matters.''

After only weeks of discussion, the Cabinet approved Friday a major revision of the law governing exports. The legal measures will be introduced for passage into the current session of the Japanese Diet (parliament). Observers are astounded by the speed of Japan's response. Such changes, involving several government ministries, normally take months or even years in Japan's consensus-based system. A major factor motivating such action is the severe damage which the Toshiba affair has caused United States-Japan relations, including security ties.

The new measures specifically aim at bring security concerns to the fore in the export-control system. Despite resistance, the Trade and Industry Ministry (MITI) was forced to cede authority over what had been its sole province.

There will now be sterner punishment for violators, and the Foreign Ministry will have a role in the system. MITI will also hold talks with the Defense Agency on its offer to supply technical experts to help check for possible violations of the COCOM restrictions. (COCOM is the international body supervising trade with communist areas).

The changes in the law itself include:

Linking export control explicitly to maintaining international security.

A provision stipulating consultation by MITI with the Foreign Ministry.

Extending the maximum criminal penalty for violations relating to national security from three to five years, and similarly changing the statute of limitations on such crimes.

Administrative penalties - prohibiting export of goods and services by a violating company - will cover both illegal export of goods and transaction of services. (The current law provides penalty only for goods).

Maximum prohibition of exports will be strengthened from one to three years.

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