New govt view on defense right seen in summer

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

JAPAN - The government will likely seek Cabinet approval for a renewed interpretation of the Constitution to lift the nation's self-imposed ban on the use of the right to collective self-defence as early as this summer, government sources said.

The move apparently reflects the government's belief that any further delay in adopting a new official stance on the right of collective self-defence would greatly undermine efforts to revise the Guidelines for Japan-US Defence Cooperation, which define the roles of Japan's Self-Defence Forces and the US armed forces in maintaining the two nations' alliance.

Delays in this respect would also adversely affect efforts to gain support from the public for renewing the government's interpretation of the supreme law in connection with the right, according to the sources.

The government hopes to seek Cabinet approval shortly after the Diet ends discussions on important bills during its ongoing session, the sources said.

For years, the government has said Japan possesses the right to collective self-defence, though the Constitution prohibits the exercise of the right.

The Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security, an expert advisory panel, is expected to submit a report on the matter as early as April. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said this will likely be followed by his adminstration's new stance on the right being adopted at a Cabinet meeting after discussions within the government, including the Cabinet Legislation Bureau, as well as talks with New Komeito, the junior partner in the Liberal Democratic Party-led ruling coalition. Komeito has remained cautious about reconsidering the government's official stance on the right in connection with the Constitution.

A key factor behind the government's move to adopt a Cabinet decision on the new constitutional interpretation as early as this summer is an earlier Japan-US agreement to amend the defence cooperation guidelines by year-end. The government finds it impossible to further put off making a decision about its new stance on the right, an issue bound to greatly affect how to revise the guidelines for the first time in 17 years, according to the sources.

The government believes the nation should be allowed to exercise the right to better deal with a national security environment that has become increasingly tense in recent years, according to the sources.

The advisory panel is currently debating various issues on the assumption that the nation should be able to exercise the right. Issues include expanding the scope of SDF rear-area support for the US forces and new standards for mobilizing SDF troops in the event that a remote island faces a threat from a foreign country.

A senior government official said, "After presenting the government's interpretation, we'll hold debates in the Diet quickly. By having the prime minister himself carefully explain the issue, we want to obtain the public's understanding."

The official eyed finishing the procedure by the end of the current Diet session. Though the current Diet session is scheduled to end on June 22, the government will consider extending it if the schedule is tight for deciding on the new interpretation.

However, adjusting opinions with New Komeito is predicted to be difficult.

New Komeito Secretary General Yoshihisa Inoue said at a press conference Friday, "We have to hold discussions between ruling parties, and between ruling parties and the government, on various issues, including how to complete necessary procedures."