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Abe backs re-reading of Japan's charter

Publication Date : 16-05-2014


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday made a pitch for loosening constitutional constraints on Japan's self-defence forces' rules of engagement at a time of rising tension in the region.

"As prime minister, I have the responsibility to protect the lives of people under any circumstances," he said at a press conference. "I don't think the Constitution says we have to abandon the responsibility to protect the lives of people.

"If we can enhance our deterrence, it will prevent our country from being involved in war,'' he added.

His remarks came shortly after his hand-picked security panel submitted a report recommending a re-interpretation of Article 9 in the Constitution that has barred Japan from defending allies under armed attack.

Successive Japanese governments have long argued that such collective self-defence would go beyond the minimum level of defence allowed under the war-renouncing article of Japan's post-war Constitution.

The report now says Japan needs to re-interpret the Constitution as the regional security environment has changed in recent years, given the threats posed by North Korea's nuclear programme and China's belligerent maritime activities. In essence, it says, Japan should be allowed to go to the aid of an ally that comes under armed attack, and if that situation is likely to affect Japan's own security.

In the nationally televised press conference, Abe set out his case for change even as he sought to dampen fears of a revival of Japanese militarism.

"Japan has walked the path of a peaceful country for nearly 70 years since the end of World War II. That path will not change," he said.

"But we cannot protect our peaceful lives simply by repeating that we are a peaceful country. Our peaceful lives may suddenly confront a crisis. Can anyone say that won't happen?"

A change in policy would mean that the Japanese Self-Defence Force would be allowed to go to the aid of a foreign military vessel evacuating Japanese nationals in an emergency, he explained.

But it would not mean Japan taking part in United Nations-led collective security operations, in which several nations join forces against a common aggressor.

Recognising that the issue is potentially explosive, Abe is expected to step up a public relations campaign to win over Japanese voters.

In recent opinion surveys, slightly over half of the respondents were against giving Japan the right of collective self-defence through a mere constitutional interpretation.

Some critics say such a serious matter calls for a proper amendment, not a mere interpretation.

The Japanese leader is aiming to use a quick Cabinet approval, rather than the endorsement of the full Parliament, to bring about the constitutional re-interpretation, and to do it by mid-year so that the decision can be reflected in Japan-United States defence guidelines due to be revised by the year end.

Enabling Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defence is seen as part of Abe's push for a broader reworking of Japan's post-war security framework.

But he will first have to overcome reservations with his own party and to persuade his junior coalition partner, the New Komeito party, to go along.

Masahiko Koumura, vice-president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said on Wednesday that he hoped to strike an agreement with the New Komeito in talks due to begin next Tuesday.


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