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

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Japan takes historic step from post-war pacifism, OKs fighting for allies
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a press conference at his official residence in Tokyo Tuesday, July 1, 2014. Japan took a step away Tuesday from an American-drafted constitution that has long kept its military shackled, approving a plan to allow greater use of a force that was vanquished at the end of World War II. Abe said the shift is intended to protect the lives and security of the Japanese people. For example, he said, Japanese warships would be able to help protect U.S. ships that were fighting to defend Japan. "This is for the happiness of the Japanese people," he said. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a press conference at his official residence in Tokyo Tuesday, July 1, 2014. Japan took a step away Tuesday from an American-drafted constitution that has long kept its military shackled, approving a plan to allow greater use of a force that was vanquished at the end of World War II. Abe said the shift is intended to protect the lives and security of the Japanese people. For example, he said, Japanese warships would be able to help protect U.S. ships that were fighting to defend Japan. "This is for the happiness of the Japanese people," he said. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
A man shouts slogans over a public-address system during a protest outside the Japanese prime minister's office in anticipation his government will reinterpret the constitution to allow Japan's military a larger international role in Tokyo, Tuesday, July 1, 2014. About two thousand people demonstrated to demand that Abe's Cabinet scrap its plan, intended to allow the Japanese military to help defend other nations. It would be one of the biggest changes in Japan's security policy since World War II. The placards from left to right read: "Do not scratch the article 9," "We oppose," and "Security treaty." (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a press conference at his official residence in Tokyo Tuesday, July 1, 2014. Japan took a step away Tuesday from an American-drafted constitution that has long kept its military shackled, approving a plan to allow greater use of a force that was vanquished at the end of World War II. Abe said the shift is intended to protect the lives and security of the Japanese people. For example, he said, Japanese warships would be able to help protect U.S. ships that were fighting to defend Japan. "This is for the happiness of the Japanese people," he said. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
People lift placards reading: "Don't kill the youngsters!", left, and "You have no right to reinterpret the constitution," top right, and shout anti-war slogans during their protest outside the Japanese prime minister's official residence in Tokyo as the Cabinet approved reinterpreting the constitution on military affairs Tuesday, July 1, 2014. Japan took a step away Tuesday from an American-drafted constitution that has long kept its military shackled, approving a plan to allow greater use of a force that was vanquished at the end of World War II. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
A protester shouts slogans outside the Japanese prime minister's office in Tokyo as the Cabinet approved reinterpreting the constitution on military affairs Tuesday, July 1, 2014. Japan took a step away Tuesday from an American-drafted constitution that has long kept its military shackled, approving a plan to allow greater use of a force that was vanquished at the end of World War II. The placard at right reads: "No! War, We strongly oppose the country that goes to war." (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Protesters shouts slogans during a rally against an expected decision by Japan’s government to allow its military a larger international role, in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, July 1, 2014. The protesters demanded that Japanese cabinet scrap a plan to allow the military to help defend other nations by reinterpreting the country’s war-renouncing constitution. The banner reads "Denounce Abe government's reinterpretation of the constitution." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
People hold banners and placards during a protest outside the Japanese prime minister's office in anticipation his government will reinterpret the constitution to allow Japan's military a larger international role in Tokyo, Tuesday, July 1, 2014. About two thousand people demonstrated to demand that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet scrap its plan, intended to allow the Japanese military to help defend other nations. It would be one of the biggest changes in Japan's security policy since World War II. The banners and placards read: "Against any constitution that leads us to wars!!" and "Do not scratch the article 9." (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
A protester is detained by police officers during a rally against an expected decision by Japan’s government to allow its military a larger international role in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, July 1, 2014. The protesters demanded that Japanese cabinet scrap a plan to allow the military to help defend other nations by reinterpreting the country’s war-renouncing constitution. The placards read: "Oppose collective self-defense plan." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
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BY LINDA SIEG AND KIYOSHI TAKENAKA

(Reuters) - Japan took a historic step away from its post-war pacifism on 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, 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, but 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 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 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 United States, 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.

The shift, however, will be welcomed by Washington, which has long urged Tokyo to become a more equal alliance partner, and by Southeast Asia nations that also have rows with China

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".

"Even if Japan doesn't go to war abroad anytime soon, I don't want my children to go war even in 10 or 20 years," said teacher Aska Miyanaga, 37, standing with her son and daughter.

Legal revisions to implement the change must be approved by parliament and restrictions could be imposed in the process.

Since its 1945 defeat, Japan's military has not engaged in combat. Past governments have stretched the constitution's limits to develop a military now on par with that of France and to permit non-combat missions abroad, but its armed forces remain far more constrained legally than those of other nations.

China has already argued that Japan is raising regional tensions and seeks to back its case by pointing to Abe's efforts to cast Tokyo's wartime past with a less apologetic tone.

"It makes it easier for competitors to paint Japan as a wolf in sheep's clothing," said Richard Samuels, director of the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But he added: "Just because Japan is strong does not mean that it will be aggressive."

According to the cabinet resolution, Japan could exercise force to the minimum degree necessary in cases where a country with which it has close ties is attacked and the following conditions are met: there is a threat to the existence of the Japanese state, there is a clear danger that the people's right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness could be subverted, and there is no appropriate alternative.

Precisely how the change might work in practice remains unclear, although it is likely to ease the path to joint military exercises with countries other than the United States. New Komeito, the junior partner in Abe's governing coalition, says the scope of revision is limited.


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