Japan's Cabinet yesterday took a historic step towards reinterpreting the nation's post-war pacifist Constitution to allow its military to go into battle in defence of allies, even when the nation itself is not under attack.
The right to engage in collective self-defence, a significant security policy change for the country, faces widespread public opposition and criticisms from abroad. But the legislation is expected to be pushed through in Parliament.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has been pushing for the move, told journalists after the change was approved: "As Prime Minister, I have the grave responsibility of protecting the Japanese people's lives and right to a peaceful existence. With this in mind, the Cabinet approved the basic policy for national security."
Under the reinterpretation, Japanese troops - long constrained by the Constitution - will be able to go to the aid of a friendly country under attack, even if Japan is not the target of the attack.
"For example, US (troops) could come under attack during a rescue operation for Japanese people who are fleeing from a conflict that broke out overseas. The attack is not directly on our nation, but the Cabinet's decision is intended to enable the Self-Defence Forces to protect US vessels attempting to protect the Japanese people," Mr Abe said.
Other instances cited by Mr Abe's camp included a North Korean missile attack on United States forces in Guam. The new definition would allow Japan's troops to shoot down the North's missile as it passes overhead. Force will, however, be exercised to the minimum degree needed when an ally is attacked.
Mr Abe yesterday sought to allay fears that Japan will put boots on the ground to fight wars overseas. "Even with this revision, Japan's Self-Defence Forces will not participate in such warfare as the Gulf War or the Iraq War," he said.
"We shall never repeat the horror of war," he said, adding: "It will never happen that Japan again becomes a country which goes to war." The Cabinet resolution also allows the speedy dispatch of its Self-Defence Forces to "grey zone" low-intensity situations, short of full-scale war. It relaxes the limits on Japan's military to act in United Nations-led peacekeeping operations.
While the US will welcome the move, thousands of Japanese protesters, including housewives, gathered near Mr Abe's office shouting, "No more Abe", as he spoke yesterday.
China, whose ties with Japan are at a low over a maritime row and Japan's past military aggression, yesterday urged Japan not to undermine regional peace and stability. "We urge the Japanese side to earnestly respect the legitimate security concerns of its Asian neighbours," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.
South Korea's Foreign Ministry said that it was monitoring the move closely and urged Japan to hold to the spirit of its war-renouncing Constitution.
Associate Professor Ken Jimbo of Keio University told The Straits Times: "The move may not be popular in the short run, but I think this will eventually be supported when Japan faces a security-related crisis, which is quite likely."
This article was first published on June 02, 2014.
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