Japan ruling bloc near agreement on security shift
TOKYO — Japan's ruling party and its coalition partner are near agreement on a major shift in the country's restrictive defensive policy that would allow the military to help defend other nations.
The planned change is part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's push to allow Japan to play a more assertive role in international security amid China's growing military presence and rising regional tensions.
On Friday, senior members of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and its partner New Komeito were finalizing the wording of a draft security policy submitted by the government. The Cabinet is expected on Tuesday to approve Japan's right to exercise "collective self-defense" by reinterpreting the war-renouncing Article 9 of Japan's Constitution — a step opponents say undermines the charter.
The two governing partners have been discussing the change based on a recommendation in May by an Abe-appointed panel of experts. After 10 rounds of talks, Abe's party has largely pressured its centrist, Buddhist-backed partner into a compromise, though New Komeito initially opposed the idea.
Abe wants to allow Japan to fight for other countries when Japan isn't under direct attack. He says no single country can defend itself anymore and that Japan needs to keep up with the increasingly harsh security environment in the region, citing China's rise and missile and nuclear threats from North Korea.
The near-final draft Friday says Japan can exercise the right to collective self-defense only when there is a need to safeguard the people's right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness when it is threatened by a foreign armed attack on Japan or "countries with close ties." It says the military measures should be "limited to the minimum amount necessary."
New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi welcomed the draft's limits on the use of collective defense.
Critics say the new policy leaves the door open for Japan's eventual participation in collective security activities such as the war in Iraq. Japan currently limits its participation even in U.N. peacekeeping activities to noncombat roles.
Written under U.S. direction after World War II, the 1947 constitution says the Japanese people "forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation," and that "land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained."
The interpretation of that ban has been relaxed over the years, allowing Japan to have a military to defend itself, dubbed a Self-Defense Force. A number of Japanese leaders have said in the past that the country has a right to collective self-defense but has chosen not to use it.