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Abe’s collective self-defense ploy may be too hard a sell: New Komeito chief

Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s initiative to lift Japan’s self-imposed ban on engaging in collective self-defense may not gain public support, New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi suggested Thursday.

It takes both perseverance and ability on the part of politicians to gain the public’s acceptance of such a goal, “and this will not be easy,” Yamaguchi said in an interview with Kyodo News.

“Opinion polls show the public is cautious” about Japan exercising the right to collective self-defense, which has been defined as defending an ally under armed attack, said the leader of New Komeito, the pacifist, Buddhist-backed junior partner in Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party-led ruling bloc.

Yamaguchi said it will be difficult to reach an agreement within the ruling coalition by year’s end, calling into question an early decision on whether Japan should exercise the right. Abe has been seeking to change the government’s interpretation of the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9 in order to allow Japan to engage in collective self-defense, in lieu of going through the lengthy process of actually amending the charter, which took effect in 1947.

New Komeito itself reportedly opposes any attempt to amend Article 9.

Yamaguchi also said the issue of collective self-defense is not a current policy priority for the coalition.

“The priority for the Japanese people is to revive the economy and ensure sustainability in social security,” he said. “If we (divert) our energies into other issues, then we won’t be able to live up to their expectations.”

Yamaguchi questioned the Abe-led initiative to alter the interpretation of the Occupation-drafted pacifist Constitution so Japan can exercise the right of collective self-defense.

“Can we provide an explanation . . . that is coherent and systematic?” he asked.

“This is a coalition government, so (the public) expects us to use executive power with the backing of the public and the ruling parties,” he said. “I don’t think the government will unilaterally change” the interpretation of the Constitution.