Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reiterated Wednesday that Japan would not deploy Self-Defense Force troops to foreign countries or to their territorial waters if contentious security reform bills are enacted by the Diet.
The only possible exception in the Middle East would be mine-sweeping operations in territorial waters of nations along the Strait of Hormuz, through which 80 percent of crude oil shipments to Japan pass, he said.
“At present, I have no other example in my mind” in the Middle East, Abe told a Diet committee.
Abe’s remarks came as the opposition camp continued to grill him over security bills that could thrust the SDF into a greater range of operations overseas, during the first full-fledged debate at a Lower House special committee.
Lawmakers urged the administration to make clear how far the scope of the troops’ activities would expand under the legislation.
Democratic Party of Japan President Katsuya Okada urged Abe to write into the bills what he has asserted verbally, that Japan will not deploy its troops to other countries’ territorial waters, land, and airspace.
“Otherwise, there is the risk of expanding” the interpretation of the bills in the future, he said.
The DPJ also urged Abe to admit that passing the legislation would put SDF personnel at greater risk.
Mine-sweeping operations in territorial waters without a cease-fire in place is considered to be an exercise of the use of force banned under the Constitution.
But the Abe Cabinet’s reinterpretation of the charter last July paved the way for the nation to exercise the limited use of collective self-defense, or coming to the aid of a friendly nation under attack even when Japan itself is not.
One such scenario, Abe said, is the protection of U.S. ships both in international waters and possibly in foreign territorial waters as they evacuate Japanese citizens in an emergency.
But he argued the SDF could not be sucked into supporting the American military in a conflict started pre-emptively by the U.S. because such a first strike is banned by the U.N. charter.
One of the submitted bills is a permanent law to dispatch the SDF on logistics missions in support of foreign militaries, while the other amends 10 existing security-related laws.
The latter would remove a long-standing ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense and expand the range of possible logistics missions the SDF could undertake in support of multinational forces such as those formerly operating in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Opposition lawmakers argued such changes would increase the dangers faced by SDF personnel.
Abe stopped short of agreeing with this, saying only that the risk would not be zero and the government would take every possible measure to reduce the danger.
He also argued that SDF troops have a mission to protect Japanese citizens.
They bear “huge responsibilities” aimed at reducing risks to Japanese citizens, Abe said.
Abe also reiterated his claim that enacting the bills would help beef up the Japan-U.S. alliance and make it more of a deterrent, which he said was important because of the region’s changing security environment, such as China’s muscle-flexing in the East China Sea and South China Sea, and North Korea’s missile development