[JURIST] The Japanese House of Representatives [official website, in Japanese], approved a bill Tuesday that would allow the country's space program to be used for defense purposes, including the development of spy satellites. A lower house committee approved the bill [JURIST report] late last week. The new bill is expected to be approved by the House of Councillors [official website, in Japanese], the upper house of the Japanese legislature. If passed into law, the bill would overturn a 1969 parliamentary resolution limiting the country's use of space to non-military activities by placing responsibility for space programs with all members of the Japanese Cabinet [official website], including the new Ministry of Defense [official website]. Formerly the Japan Defense Agency, the Ministry of Defense was raised to the Cabinet by parliament [JURIST report] in December 2006. Proponents of the new legislation say the previous law curtailed the technological advancement of Japanese aerospace companies. AP has more. BBC News has additional coverage.
While Japanese lawmakers still oppose the use of actual weapons in space, a stance consistent with Japan's post-WWII pacifist constitution [JURIST news archive], the new space legislation has been characterized as a response to a Chinese weapons test in January [BBC report] in which the Chinese military reportedly used a ground-based medium-range ballistic missile to destroy a weather satellite. Many countries have criticized China's missile test, saying that it could induce future arms movements into space [CNS backgrounder]. In October 2006, US President George W. Bush authorized the first changes to the US space policy in nearly 10 years by asserting authority to deny access to space [JURIST report] to any adversary hostile to US interests. In 2002, China and Russia jointly proposed an explicit ban on weapons in space [PDF text; China Daily report], but the US opposed the measure, arguing that the 1967 Outer Space Treaty [text] already provided enough protection against the practice.