Talks on key security legislation between the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito have gotten off to a contentious start, with the LDP's desire to expand the role of the Self-Defence Forces butting up against Komeito's call for a system with clear checks.
The discussions between the ruling parties are shaping up to be a war of nerves as they aim to compile legislation before unified local elections are held in April.
Who is covered?
"We never agreed that countries besides the United States weren't covered," LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura said at a conference of the ruling parties Friday.
Komeito deputy chief Kazuo Kitagawa countered: "Nothing of the sort is written in the Cabinet decision. [The issue] hasn't been sufficiently debated."
The security talks between the ruling parties have resumed after a hiatus of about seven months, and sparks flew between the coalition parties over the first issue - how to address so-called gray zone incidents that do not amount to military attacks.
The same day, the government announced a proposal that would allow the SDF to offer protection to the militaries of nations besides the United States, if they are engaged in joint operations with the SDF related to protecting Japan.
While the Cabinet decision announced in July said that legislation would be sought to allow the SDF to protect US military units that come under attack while engaged in reconnaissance or other operations near Japan, it said nothing about other countries' militaries, which prompted Komeito's objection.
Kitagawa told the LDP that during the talks, his party wants to debate and decide on items that were not included in the Cabinet decision, and ensure that the legal conditions and procedures for dispatching the SDF are not vague.
At a party meeting after the coalition conference, several Komeito members complained that the government was gradually broadening its interpretation of the Cabinet decision.
Most crucial point
Komeito is insisting on adhering strictly to the Cabinet decision because it affects the primary issue in the talks - whether to enact permanent legislation.
Komeito believes the provision of backup support in areas near Japan could be dealt with by revising the Law Concerning Measures to Ensure the Peace and Security of Japan in Situations in Areas Surrounding Japan.
For situations in distant lands, the junior coalition partner wants to rely on special measures laws to approve backup support, reconstruction assistance and other activities.
Even if permanent legislation is enacted, Komeito is believed to want to put strict checks in place, such as requiring prior approval by the Diet or a UN Security Council resolution.
In contrast, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his intention during a Diet session on Feb. 5 to create a permanent law. It seems that the LDP will not budge from enacting permanent legislation, which it believes would enable rapid responses, a position that Komeito disagrees with.
Another likely subject of debate in the talks is whether to allow the SDF to engage in police actions if other related nations give their consent, such as peacekeeping operations and operations to rescue Japanese nationals.
Such actions were given fresh approval in the Cabinet decision but are the subject of stiff opposition within Komeito.
"Would any country accept the presence of another nation's military?" a senior Komeito official said.
The unified local elections scheduled for April are adding to Komeito's wariness.
The party is determined to avoid giving the impression that it was pressured by the LDP to accept provisions beyond what the Cabinet decision contained, analysts said.
The government and LDP are planning to submit related legislation in May for enactment during the current Diet session.
The administration also hopes to complete a review of Japan-US defence cooperation guidelines before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits the United States this spring.
Considering this time frame, the ruling parties likely need to wrap up their discussions by late March.