Japan takes historic step from post-war pacifism, OKs fighting for allies

TOKYO, (Reuters) – Japan took a historic step away from its post-war pacifism yesterday by ending a ban that has kept the military from fighting abroad since 1945, a victory for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe but a move that has riled China and worries many Japanese voters.

Shinzo Abe
Shinzo Abe

The change, the most dramatic policy shift since Japan set up its post-war armed forces 60 years ago, will widen Japan’s military options by ending the ban on exercising “collective self-defence”, or aiding a friendly country under attack.

Abe’s cabinet adopted a resolution outlining the shift, which also relaxes limits on activities in U.N.-led peace-keeping operations and “grey zone” incidents short of full-scale war, Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters.

Long constrained by the post-war constitution, Japan’s armed forces will become more aligned with the militaries of other advanced nations in terms of its options. However, Tokyo will be wary of putting boots on the ground in multilateral operations such as the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Abe repeated that stance on Tuesday, while stressing Japan had to respond to an increasingly tough security environment.

“There is no change in the general principle that we cannot send troops overseas,” Abe told a televised news conference, flanked by a poster showing Japanese mothers and infants fleeing a theoretical combat zone on a U.S. vessel under attack.

The United States, which defeated Japan in World War Two then became its close ally with a security cooperation treaty, welcomed the Japanese move and said it would make the U.S.-Japan alliance more effective.“This decision is an important step for Japan as it seeks to make a greater contribution to regional and global peace and security,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement.

“The United States has an enduring interest in the Asia-Pacific’s peace and prosperity, and our alliance with Japan is critical to our strategy in the region,” Hagel said.

Hagel added that he looked forward to discussing Japan’s decision when Onodera visits Washington next week.

Washington has long urged Tokyo to become a more equal alliance partner and Japan’s move will also be welcomed by Southeast Asia nations that like Tokyo have territorial rows with an increasingly assertive China.

Tokyo’s new policy has angered China, whose ties with Japan have frayed due to a maritime row, mistrust and the legacy of past Japanese military aggression.

“China opposes the Japanese fabricating the China threat to promote its domestic political agenda,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a news conference in Beijing.

“We demand that Japan respect the reasonable security concerns of its Asian neighbors and prudently handle the relevant matter.”

South Korea, like Japan allied with the United States, but still aggrieved about Tokyo’s 20th century colonisation of the Korean peninsula, said it would not accept any change in policy affecting its security unless it gave its agreement.

Abe’s advisers have said Tokyo should take no action involving a friendly country without that country’s consent.

Conservatives say the constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9 has limited Japan’s ability to defend itself and that a changing regional power balance, including a rising China, means policies must be more flexible.

“Conservative governments have pushed the envelope hard and often to get the public to agree to a more elastic interpretation of article 9. Abe is taking a bigger leap and getting away with it, thanks to the Chinese,” said Columbia University political science professor Gerry Curtis.

Abe, who took office in 2012 promising to revive Japan’s economy and bolster its security posture, has pushed for the change – which revises a longstanding government interpretation of the charter – despite wariness among ordinary Japanese.

VOTERS WARY

Some voters worry about entanglement in foreign wars and others are angry at what they see as a gutting of Article 9 by ignoring formal amendment procedures. The charter has never been revised since it was adopted after Japan’s 1945 defeat.

On Sunday, a man set himself on fire near a busy Tokyo intersection – a rare form of protest in Japan – after speaking out against Abe’s re-interpretation of Article 9.

While Abe spoke, thousands of protesters, including pensioners, housewives and employees just leaving work, gathered near the premier’s office carrying banners and shouting, “Don’t destroy Article 9”, “We’re against war” and “No more Abe”.

“After this bill is enacted, Japanese soldiers could be sent abroad to fight foreign wars – we don’t want that,” said Yoshiharu Uchinuma, 62, an artist and farmer, wearing a helmet saying “9 No War”.

Latest in World News

default placeholder

Health officials race to prevent Congo yellow fever disaster

DAKAR, (Reuters) – It is the stuff of a disaster movie: an outbreak of yellow fever in Congo’s capital city, full of unvaccinated people mostly huddled together in slums with too few drains and the kind of sticky, fetid climate that mosquitoes love.

Michael Gove

British minister denies treachery as he pitches to be next prime minister

LONDON,  (Reuters) – Justice Secretary Michael Gove pitched yesterday to be the prime minister to take Britain out of the EU, a day after he destroyed the chances of another frontrunner in what some colleagues called an act of treachery.

default placeholder

In first half of 2016, record number of migrants die trying to cross Mediterranean: IOM

LONDON,  (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Nearly 2,900 migrants have died trying to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea, making the first six months of 2016 the deadliest on record, according to figures published yesterday by an international migration group.

default placeholder

Austrian far right gets second chance at presidency with vote re-run

VIENNA, (Reuters) – Austria’s presidential election runoff must be held again, the Constitutional Court ruled yesterday, handing the Freedom Party’s narrowly defeated candidate another chance to become the first far-right head of state in the European Union.

default placeholder

U.S. judge blocks law allowing religion as reason to deny service to LGBT people

(Reuters) – A federal judge has blocked a Mississippi law intended to allow people who object on religious grounds to refuse wedding and other services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

A sniper from forces aligned with Libya's new unity government shoots while his comrade uses binoculars to scan the area looking for an Islamic State position in the Zaafran area in Sirte June 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

Libyan forces battle Islamic State street-to-street in Sirte

SIRTE, Libya,  (Reuters) – Crouching on a rooftop, Libyan truck driver Riyad Swaid takes aim through breeze blocks at positions held by Islamic State fighters a few hundred metres away in the city of Sirte.

default placeholder

Italy’s biggest Chinese community clashes with police near Florence

FLORENCE, Italy,  (Reuters) – Violent clashes broke out this week between police and the local Chinese community in Prato near Florence in central Italy, home to one of the largest concentrations of Chinese-run industry in Europe.

default placeholder

Murders in El Salvador drop by half in June

SAN SALVADOR, (Reuters) – Murders in El Salvador plunged 51 percent in June compared with the same month last year, police said on Friday, attributing the drop to new government security measures even as gangs pointed to a recent truce to explain the decline.

Comments

About these comments

The comments section is intended to provide a forum for reasoned and reasonable debate on the newspaper's content and is an extension of the newspaper and what it has become well known for over its history: accuracy, balance and fairness. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments which contain attacks on other users, slander, coarse language and profanity, and gratuitous and incendiary references to race and ethnicity.

Stay updated! Follow Stabroek News on Facebook or Twitter.

Get the day's headlines from SN in your inbox every morning: