TOKYO: Japan took a historic step away from its post-war pacifism Tuesday 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.
The change, the most dramatic shift in policy 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-defense,” 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, Defense 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, the government 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 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 II then became its close ally with a security cooperation treaty, welcomed the Japanese move.
“We have followed with interest the extensive discussion within Japan on the issue of exercising its right under the U.N. Charter to collective self-defense,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told a regular news briefing.
“The U.S.-Japan alliance is one of our most important security partnerships and we value efforts by Japan to strengthen that security cooperation,” she said.However, the new policy has angered an increasingly assertive China, whose ties with Japan have frayed due to a maritime row, mistrust and the legacy of Japan’s past 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 U.S., but still aggrieved about Tokyo’s 20th-century colonization 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.
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 Japan’s 1945 defeat.
Sunday, a man set himself on fire near a Tokyo intersection – a rare form of protest in Japan – after speaking out against Abe’s reviewing of Article 9.
While Abe spoke, thousands of protesters, including pensioners and housewives, 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.”