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Monday, 17 April, 2000, 07:48 GMT 08:48 UK
Military fears over PlayStation2
Sony says it has sold 1.4 million consoles since launch
Japan has imposed export controls on Sony's highly popular PlayStation2 games console, on the grounds that its components could be used for military purposes.

Local media reports said the console and its 8MB memory card had been designated as "general-purpose products related to conventional weapons" because they contain components that could be used quickly to process high quality images - a characteristic of missile guidance systems.

The original PlayStation generated about 40% of Sony's profits

Guidance systems typically involve a missile-mounted camera that transmits images to a remote operator who can adjust the rocket's trajectory.

The PlayStation2, which includes a DVD player and will offer internet access, is Sony's most profitable product. The company said it had shipped 1.4 million consoles in the month after the game's launch on 4 March.

Japan's fears

A Sony spokesman confirmed that export regulations had been imposed but declined to comment on the reported military applications.

Under Japan's Foreign Exchange and Trade law, companies wishing to export more than 50,000 yen ($472) worth of products that can be used for military purposes must get an official licence.

Given that the PlayStation2 retails for 39,800 yen, anybody wishing to ship more than one machine out of Japan would first have to obtain special government permission.

We have mixed feelings as our efforts to produce a game console of the highest quality resulted in legal restriction

Sony spokesman Kenichi Fukunaga

The Japanese Government has become increasingly wary recently of the fact that civilian products could be diverted for production of weapons.

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

Fierce competition

Sony spokesman Kenichi Fukunaga said his company had mixed feelings about the export controls "as our efforts to produce a game console of the highest quality resulted in legal restriction".

The competition is catching up, and the regulations will eventually have to be reviewed

Sony spokesman Kenichi Fukunaga

According to Mr Fukunaga, government action will do little to hinder intense competition among game makers.

"The technology in this machine is at the cutting edge, but the competition is catching up, and the regulations will eventually have to be reviewed," Mr Fukunaga was quoted by Japanese media as saying.

Sony rival Sega Enterprises launched its Dreamcast games console with internet access last year.

Nintendo, makers of the portable Game Boy, has plans for a new machine, while Microsoft also plans to introduce its own video game machine in late 2001.

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See also:

04 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
PlayStation fever sweeps Japan
17 Mar 00 | Business
New glitch for PlayStation2
13 Mar 00 | Business
PlayStation fault hits Sony shares
09 Mar 00 | Business
Microsoft opens the X-Box
10 Mar 00 | Business
PlayStation2 runs into trouble
28 Feb 00 | Business
Sega warns of losses
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