Wednesday, May 14, 2014, 11:21
Japan PM to pitch security change to divided voters
By Reuters

 Japan PM to pitch security change to divided voters
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe holds a news conference upon the conclusion of his tour to Europe in Brussels onMay 7, 2014. (Photo / Reuters)

TOKYO - Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's private advisers will on Thursday present him with a report urging a loosening of legal limits on Japan's military, including an end to a decades-old ban on helping allies under attack that has kept Japanese forces from fighting abroad since World War II.

The report, a draft of which was obtained by Reuters, sets the stage for Abe to make a pitch for a historic change in a defence policy that has long been based on the principle that Japan has the right to defend itself with the minimum necessary force, but that combat abroad exceeds the limit.

A lifting of the ban on "collective self-defence" would be welcome to Japan's ally the United States, but would draw criticism from China, ties with which have been damaged by a territorial row and the legacy of Japan's past aggression.

Despite Abe's desire to loosen the limits of the US-drafted charter, doubts remain about how far and how quickly he can go. His Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) junior partner, the New Komeito, is wary, voters are divided and the LDP's deputy leader is worried about the impact on local polls this year and next.

"This is not a simple matter that can just be pushed through," a senior LDP lawmaker told Reuters. "It's complex."

Previous governments have said Japan has the right of collective self-defence under international law, but that the constitution's pacifist Article 9 prohibited taking such action.

Abe's advisers argue that Japan's security environment requires a more flexible approach.

Japan itself is locked in a feud with China over isles in the East China Sea.


Given domestic and diplomatic dynamics, a blanket lifting of the ban soon appears unlikely - although critics say even small changes would open the door to more drastic moves later.

"There are some changes to which the New Komeito is strongly opposed," an LDP lawmaker said.

Critics also say Abe is taking a stealthy approach by seeking to reinterpret the constitution instead of the more politically difficult step of formally revising the US-drafted charter, which has never been altered since its adoption in 1947.

Abe would like to embody the change in a cabinet resolution next month, before the parliamentary session ends on June 22, or at the latest by September, to leave time to revise a slew of related laws in an extra session of parliament late in the year.

"The prime minister wants to act while his support rates are high and politics stable," the first LDP lawmaker said.

Supporters of the change also want it settled in time to be reflected in updated US-Japan defence cooperation guidelines that Japan wants to finish by year-end.

Abe will unveil the government's response to the report on Thursday, outlining cases in which legal limits on the military could be loosened as a basis for talks inside the ruling bloc.

Examples in the report include protecting a US warship under attack in waters near Japan; mine-sweeping in sea-lanes in a conflict zone; intercepting a ballistic missile headed for America; and inspecting vessels supplying arms to a country that has attacked the United States.

The advisers will also state there are no constitutional constraints on Japan's participation in UN-led collective security operations, in which nations join to repel an aggressor against one state, but the government is unlikely to push for that even more controversial change, political sources said.

The draft also recommends legal changes to facilitate action not directly tied to collective self-defence but where the military has to date been constrained by legal concerns, such as rescuing Japanese overseas, using weapons in UN peace-keeping operations and dispatching troops to low-intensity conflicts that fall short of a full-scale attack on Japan.