Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may use an address to Australia’s parliament this week to outline plans for expanding the nation’s military role in joint exercises carried out under the mantle of collective self-defense — a move that has been welcomed by the U.S. but opposed by China as well as the majority of the public.
“Abe’s speech to the Australian Parliament will be of much broader significance than just its part in Australia-Japan relations,” Greg Sheridan, foreign editor of The Australian newspaper, wrote in an editorial on Saturday. “The whole world, or certainly the entire global strategic class, will be watching.”
Abe’s Cabinet on July 1 approved a reinterpretation of Article 9 of the nation’s pacifist Constitution to allow military action in concert with other countries in situations where Japan’s security is endangered.
Since taking office in December 2012, Abe has sought to bolster Japan’s security stance amid a territorial row with an increasingly assertive China and concerns about the strength of the country’s alliance with the U.S. He has increased the defense budget after 11 years of decline, passed a deeply unpopular law tightening the penalties for leaking state secrets, and loosened the restrictions on arms exports.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. may soon win approval to export high-performance sensors to the U.S. for use in missile defense systems that would be sold to Qatar, the Nikkei newspaper reported on Sunday.
During his Australia visit, Abe will sign trade and defense technology agreements that may include the sale of submarine technology.
Even as China expands its military presence in the region and claims huge swaths of the resource-rich East and South China seas as part of its sovereign territory, the public remains concerned that a wider military remit for SDF forces might drag the nation into a conflict after almost 70 years of peace.
Two media surveys prior to the Cabinet’s move found that half or more of the respondents opposed collective self-defense despite Abe’s constant repetition of the rationale for change. Support for the Cabinet fell afterward, according to a Kyodo News survey, with a majority of respondents saying they opposed the reinterpretation.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called Japan’s openness to collective defense an important step that will make the security alliance between the two nations more effective. China expressed opposition, with its Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei saying Japan’s government had been “fabricating” a Chinese threat for domestic political purposes.