Japan is poised to set its plan in motion to allow its military to help defend other countries, which will herald a major shift in the country’s defence-oriented postwar security policy amid rising concerns over its creeping assertiveness in the region.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to convene a Cabinet meeting Tuesday to approve Tokyo’s right to exercise collective self-defence by reinterpreting the war-renouncing Article 9 of its Constitution.
The change will allow Japan’s Self-Defence Forces to use force to protect countries with which it has “close ties” if they come under attack. It may also expand the range of their use of weapons in peacekeeping operations and make way for their participation in the UN’s collective security system, according to Japanese media.
The move is likely to bring Japan a step closer to the nationalist premier’s long-cherished goal of becoming a “normal” state to better counter a rising China and unabated North Korean threats.
Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party has been fine-tuning the document with its coalition partner the New Komeito Party, which initially displayed reluctance given opposition at home and overseas.
“We’d like to hammer it out tomorrow if the ruling bloc manages to complete coordination,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference on Monday.
Concerns are growing that the decision would usher in a rebirth of Japanese militarism from the early 20th century that still haunts the two Koreas, China and other Asian countries by incapacitating the pacifist clause banning Tokyo from waging war and possessing related materials.
Despite Washington’s support, the policy shift has helped drag down the LDP’s approval ratings to below 40 per cent for the first time, while fueling a series of rallies among politicians and civic activists across the country.
In a poll by Japan’s Mainichi Shimbun newspaper from June 27-28, about 58 per cent of the respondents opposed to the plan and more than 70 per cent said that it could drag the country into overseas wars. A separate joint survey by the Nihon Keizai Shimbun and TV Tokyo also showed that around half of the respondents disapproved and only 34 per cent supported the change.
Wary of the sour public sentiment, Japan reportedly vowed to remain committed to an exclusively defensive security policy and contribute to global peace and stability as a “pacifist state” in a draft document.
The constitutional reinterpretation is also likely to impact Tokyo’s relations with Seoul, already snowed under with festering territorial and historical feuds.
Abe has been pushing for a slew of revisionist foreign and security policies since he took office early last year. Last week, his administration unveiled a report that undermined its landmark 1993 apology for Japan’s enslavement of Korean women during World War II, prompting scathing criticism from Seoul.
“Collective self-defence is an issue of sovereignty so it’s a bit tricky for us to put forward a certain assessment, but given the prevalent concerns and the issue’s relevance to the Korean Peninsula, we will present our comprehensive position after the cabinet decision,” a senior official at the Foreign Ministry here said on condition of anonymity.
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