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Abe tells Philippine leader of tilt toward more robust military

Kyodo, AFP-JIJI

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Saturday that his government plans to proceed with the debate on whether Japan should exercise the right to collective self-defense — a politically sensitive issue that previous administrations have interpreted as banned by the Constitution.

Abe also briefed Philippine President Benigno Aquino III on discussions in Japan on constitutional changes, as Asian countries are wary about tilt to the right on defense.

“We plan to proceed in considering” whether to exercise the right of collective self-defense, Abe told a news conference in Manila before heading back to Tokyo after a three-day swing through Southeast Asia.

Collective self-defense is the concept of one country coming to the aid of another that has come under armed attack.

Abe said such principles as pacifism, the sovereignty of the people and respect for basic human rights would be preconditions for any such change, and that discussions are now “deepening” about what kind of Constitution best suits modern Japan.

Consideration of exercising the right to collective self-defense involves “the viewpoint of ensuring safety for Japan and contributing to the Japan-U.S. alliance, and regional peace and stability,” Abe was quoted as telling Aquino.

He also touched on this during his meeting with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

Abe avoided the topic of constitutional revision and other right-leaning policies during the Upper House election campaign. Now that the election is over, Abe appears be eager to put the topic on the table.

Abe also said he intends to carefully explain such a stance to avoid “misunderstanding” by other countries in the region, while noting that Japan is simply trying to do some of what almost all the other countries can naturally do.

On South Korea, Abe said he hopes to hold his first summit with President Park Geun-hye to mend frayed ties, calling for reconciliation after a year of diplomatic discord marked by the Takeshima territorial dispute and visits by Japanese politicians to Yasukuni Shrine.

“I have had a telephone conversation with President Park Geun-hye. We belong to the same generation so I sincerely hope that we will be able to hold a summit,” he said.

He did not say when the phone call took place or when a summit could take place.

He described Seoul as “a most important neighbor with whom Japan shares fundamental values and interests.”

Abe also said he has instructed diplomats to promote dialogue with China amid souring ties over the Senkaku Islands.