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LDP gropes for clarity on collective defense rewrite

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

The Liberal Democratic Party is moving ahead fast in talks to lift the nation’s self-imposed restrictions on collective self-defense as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe continues his quest for a more proactive role in the Japan-U.S. alliance.

LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba said new laws will have to clearly define when Japan can exercise the right to prevent further reinterpretations from occurring when the government changes hands.

“We need a positive list to detail cases under which we can exercise the right. We would not exercise the right without any limits,” Ishiba said Monday at the LDP’s second meeting on security-related matters. It set up a team last month to study how to respond to changing security situations in the region and beyond.

Abe wants to quickly establish a new official interpretation of the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9 so Japan can be in better step with revisions to the Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines to be finished by year-end. It will be the first new version in 17 years.

The biggest hurdle for Abe is finding common ground with coalition ally New Komeito, which is cautious about altering the current interpretation of the Constitution.

The ruling coalition agreed to hold an official meeting once the report emerges, but New Komeito refused even to admit it discussed this matter when its executives met their LDP counterparts last week in what seemed to be a talk to smooth over their differences on the contentious issue, which some fear could drag Japan into a war.

To appease New Komeito, LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura said in March the right should be exercised only under circumstances closely related to Japanese security. Among these, the LDP is reportedly considering mine-sweeping operations and defending U.S. military vessels that come under attack.

A high-ranking New Komeito lawmaker said the party is willing to discuss individual cases but cannot picture a circumstance that can’t be dealt with under Japan’s current interpretation of self-defense.

“Attacks on U.S. vessels could be deemed as attacks on Japan if the U.S. vessels are operating jointly with Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to defend Japan,” New Komeito chief Natsuo Yamaguchi said in a TV interview last week.