The security environment of Japan has been made increasingly difficult in recent years because of such factors as China's military buildup and maritime expansion and North Korea's development of nuclear weapons and missiles.
China has put emphasis on enhancement of its maritime military power.
According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Britain, and other entities, the Chinese military has 70 major surface warships while the US 7th Fleet, deployed in waters around Guam and Japan, has only about 10. With warships of the Maritime Self-Defence Force and the South Korean Navy, the US side can manage to keep its numerical advantage over the Chinese.
Meanwhile, North Korea reportedly has been successful in extending the range of its ballistic missiles, improving their accuracy and miniaturizing nuclear weapons. If Pyongyang succeeds in making nuclear weapons small enough to be mounted on missiles, their threat will become even more serious.
Collective self-defence right
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government in July last year endorsed a new constitutional interpretation, which allows the nation to exercise its right of collective self-defence in a limited way, with the aim of strengthening the Japan-US alliance and its deterrent power.
During the ordinary Diet session to be convened later this month, bills to revise the Self-Defence Forces Law and the law on the nation's response to a foreign armed attack must be approved to ensure the viability of the government's new constitutional interpretation.
Under the new constitutional interpretation, the SDF is assumed to protect US military vessels carrying Japanese nationals or engaging in missile defence.
It is also vital for Japan, which has limited natural resources, to secure the safety of sea-lanes leading to its crude oil supply sources in the Middle East. Geographical restrictions should not be made in exercising the nation's right of collective self-defence to enable MSDF ships to sweep for mines in the Hormuz Strait and other waters.
The government is planning to revise legal procedures to speed up the issuance of an order for the MSDF to take seaborne policing action, so that situations in a security gray area - such as occupation of a remote island by an armed group - could be dealt with more quickly.
We hope the government and the ruling coalition parties will have thorough discussions on what legislation would be most effective to enable the nation to deal with situations ranging from peacetime to an emergency situation in a seamless manner.
Revise defence guidelines
The proliferation of weapons of mass-destruction and terrorism, done with the progress of military technology, have made it impossible for any one nation to protect its peace single-handedly.
The government's new constitutional interpretation enables the SDF to provide logistic support, such as supply and transportation missions for troops of other nations if they are not in combat zones. To make more flexible responses possible, the government should seriously consider making a permanent and comprehensive law on the dispatch of SDF units to other countries.
Along with the development of the security legislation, the Guidelines for Japan-US Defence Cooperation that defines roles of Japanese and US forces should be revised quickly.
The relocation of the US Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station to Henoko in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, could be the only realistic option to reduce the burden on residents around the base while maintaining the deterrent power of the US military. Despite opposition by Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, it is essential for the government and ruling parties to work together toward carrying out the relocation plan steadily.
Abe is considering a plan to visit the United States during a period of consecutive holidays in May. During a meeting with US President Barack Obama, it will be important for Abe to discuss the Japan-US alliance's new roles in Asia and strategy vis-a-vis China.
During their summit meeting in November, Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to reconstruct a mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests.
To avoid unexpected accidents and clashes in the East China Sea, the two countries should, in the first place, reach agreement on the establishment and operation of a maritime liaison mechanism between their defence authorities. Practical cooperation must also be expanded in various fields, including the economy, energy and the environment.
Undoubtedly, the Senkaku Islands are a territory inherent to Japan so there is no room for Japan to make concessions. It is imperative to refute adequately and promptly China's anti-Japan propaganda, linking it with the historical perception issue.
There is concern that anti-Japan sentiment will also heighten in South Korea this year, which marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. It is not an easy task to break a stalemate in resolving the comfort women issue, on which South Korean President Park Geun-hye has stood firm.
We suggest that Japan and South Korea, for the time being, try to find a path toward making the 50th anniversary of normalization of diplomatic relations fruitful by holding meetings of their foreign ministers and top leaders and bilateral talks on a regular basis.
Early abductee solution urged
Moves toward resolving the issue of Japanese nationals abducted to North Korea are entering a crucial stage. In July last year, North Korea launched a reinvestigation of Japanese abductees with completion targeted within a year. The government must press Pyongyang to provide information about the abductees promptly without allowing them to buy time.
Abe's diplomacy is also being put to the test in connection with Japan-Russia relations. Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to visit Japan this year. Russia's serious confrontation with the United States and Europe has continued since its annexation of the Crimea Peninsula. Japan is urged to try to develop relations with Moscow while maintaining a cooperative relationship with the United States and Europe.
Abe has toured 50 countries, a record number by an incumbent Japanese prime minister, in the past two years under the slogan of "developing diplomacy from global perspective." It is laudable that Abe even visited countries of Africa and Central and South America to build personal relationships with their top leaders.
How has Japan progressed as a pacifist nation in the past 70 years? What role will Japan play on the basis of the Abe administration's "tenet of proactive contribution to peace"? It will not be insignificant if Abe tells the international community his ideas about these matters in his own words.
It is vital for Abe, with a long-term tenure in mind, to develop strategic diplomacy that sets a high value on the national interest.