Export control placed on Playstation2 video game--Japan fears Sony toy could be used to guide missiles

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Japan fears Sony toy could be used to guide missiles

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan has slapped export controls on Sony Corp's new, hugely popular Playstation2 video game because the machine is so sophisticated it could be used for military purposes, Japanese news media reported today.

The hit home game machine, which includes a digital video disc-player and will eventually offer Internet access, is Sony's most profitable product. The company said it shipped 1.4 million in the month after the game's March 4 launch.

The console and its eight-megabyte memory card have been designated as ''general-purpose products, related to conventional weapons'' because they contain components that could be used for military devices such as missile-guidance systems, Kyodo news agency quoted industry sources saying.

Playstation2 is the first game console to face export controls under the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Control Law, Kyodo said.

The law requires the trade ministry's approval for the export of restricted products worth more than 50,000 yen (the equivalent of about $685 Cdn). Thus, the export of more than two consoles would be controlled because each is priced at 39,800 yen.

''We have mixed feelings because our efforts to produce a game console of the highest quality have resulted in legal restrictions,'' Asahi Shimbun newspaper quoted an official of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. saying.

''We could not compromise because of the fierce competition in the industry,'' he said.

Officials of the Japanese Trade Ministry and Sony could not be reached for further comment.

With U.S. software giant Microsoft Corp. due to enter the lucrative video-game market later next year with its own high-performance console, tentatively called the X-Box, export controls could hinder Sony's ability to compete, Kyodo quoted industry sources saying.

The first version of the Playstation generated approximately 40 per cent of Sony's group-based operating profits.

Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., a Sony Corp. subsidiary, has said it aims to ship four million PlayStation2 consoles in Japan and three million each in Europe and the United States in the next year. Overseas shipments are due to start later this year.

''These days, there are so many items that have technology for civilians that can also be used for military purposes and, of course, PlayStation2 is among these goods,'' Asahi Shimbun quoted military commentator Kensuke Ebata saying.

Military analysts cited the example of a Tomahawk missile that needs to ``see'' where it is going until it strikes its target and must process graphic material at high speed to keep to its target. PlayStation2's graphic-processing capability is fast enough to enable it to be used in a missile.

Japan's government has become increasingly wary of the possibility products meant for civilian use could be diverted for weapons use.

Japanese radar and communications devices for civilian use were discovered in a North Korean submarine sunk by the South Korean military in December 1998 and two Japanese men were arrested in January on suspicion of illegally shipping parts for anti-tank rocket-launchers to Iran.

The export restrictions are just the latest in a string of problems that have plagued Sony's most-profitable product. Sony Computer Entertainment said this month users could illegally manipulate the machine to copy DVD movies to videotape. Last month, it said it had found the game player could be used to watch digital video-disk software sold overseas in breach of a worldwide agreement among DVD player-makers.

Sony shares closed down 1.26 per cent, or 170 yen, at 13,280 on Friday.


-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), April 16, 2000

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