Early passage hoped for defense bill amendments

by Sayuri Daimon

Staff writer

The ruling LDP-Liberal Party alliance hopes to push bills covering updated Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines through the Lower House as early as April 15, party sources said Thursday.

With the support of New Komeito, the alliance is eyeing approval during a special committee on April 14, then the lower chamber’s approval at a plenary session scheduled the following day, according to the sources. In an effort to win New Komeito’s support, senior officials of the Liberal Democratic Party and Liberal Party are holding behind-the-scenes negotiations with opposition parties to discuss possible revisions.

The alliance was hoping to get the bills passed into law before Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi’s scheduled visit to the United States in late April. But because the ruling alliance lacks a majority in the Upper House, that remains questionable. However, it is likely that, if amendments can be agreed to while the bills are under debate in the Lower House, approval will be certain before Obuchi’s departure.

Toshihiro Nikai, the Liberal Party’s Diet affairs committee chief, and Shozo Kusakawa, his New Komeito counterpart, met Wednesday to discuss the amendments, the sources said. However, talks are unlikely to progress until the end of the first round of nationwide local elections April 11 due to New Komeito politics. The party’s supporters are acutely sensitive to the security issue, so its lawmakers are likely to refrain from expressing outright support for the bills before the elections.

A main point of contention is whether the Diet should be called on to give prior approval before Self-Defense Forces are dispatched. Last week, LDP policy affairs chief Yukihiko Ikeda proposed a compromise amendment under which prior Diet approval would be necessary only for dispatching Self-Defense Forces into action in cooperation with U.S. forces.

The LDP originally insisted that simple notification to the Diet of planned military support is sufficient, saying effectiveness and swift implementation of Japan’s action under the new guidelines must be ensured. In addition, the Liberal Party has been requesting that the SDF be empowered to conduct ship inspections regardless of U.N. resolutions.

Under the new guidelines, agreed on by Tokyo and Washington in 1997, the SDF will be expected to provide logistic support for U.S. forces should an emergency threatening Japan’s peace and security occur in undefined “areas surrounding Japan.”