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Abe to battle for broader foreign support for SDF changes

by

Kyodo

Fresh from winning support from a handful of foreign countries for Japan’s new security laws, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is now pursuing broader international backing for the changes. He has meetings planned with a range of foreign leaders in coming weeks.

Broad support is seen as key as Abe tries to persuade skeptics at home — and in China and South Korea — about empowering the Self-Defense Forces to fight overseas, a change without precedent since World War II.

While he says the laws will strengthen the alliance with the United States and boost defense cooperation with friendly nations such as Australia in the face of an increasingly assertive China and a nuclear-armed North Korea, critics argue they violate the war-renouncing Constitution and could drag Japan into U.S.-led conflicts.

Polls show a majority of Japanese voters oppose the laws, unchanged from levels logged before the ruling coalition pushed the bills through the Diet on Sept. 19.

Citing the firmer deterrent effect they give the Japan-U.S. alliance, Abe says the laws are aimed at preventing war. He says he will step up efforts to explain the laws “courteously and tenaciously” to win better public support.

And the prime minister is expected to do the same with foreign leaders when he attends a trilateral summit with China and South Korea possibly in late October, as well as three international conferences in November.

These are a summit of the Group of 20 leading economies in Turkey, a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in the Philippines and the East Asia Summit in Malaysia.

“When the trilateral summit involving Japan, China and South Korea takes place, I would like to hold separate talks with President Park Geun-hye and Premier Li Keqiang,” Abe told news conference on Sept. 25, referring to the South Korean and Chinese leaders, respectively.

“Difficult issues exist between neighboring countries, and I think that’s why leaders should have talks,” he said.

The laws enable the SDF to defend the United States and other friendly nations under armed attack by exercising the right to collective self-defense — but only under strict conditions, such as if Japan’s survival is threatened. They also expand logistics support for the militaries of the United States and other countries, and for participation in U.N. peacekeeping operations.

At meetings in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, the leaders of Kenya, Qatar and Bangladesh, as well as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, told Abe they welcome the laws as part of a contribution to peace based on international cooperation, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Abe later visited Jamaica, where Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller also expressed support for the legislation, the ministry said.

Abe did not meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in New York, and in her address to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 28, Park called for transparency as Japan works with its new laws.

Beijing and Seoul, which suffered Japanese aggression and colonial rule before and during WWII, have expressed concern about the changes that may give the SDF a bigger role abroad.

China in particular dislikes the thought of a firmer Japan-U.S. alliance — a threat to its territorial ambitions in the region.

In a meeting in New York last week, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and his Australian counterpart, Julie Bishop, affirmed opposition to unilateral attempts to a change in the status quo in the South China Sea by force, effectively criticizing Beijing’s island-building in disputed waters.

Bishop underscored Australia’s support for the security laws, according to a Japanese official.

In a separate meeting, Kishida and his U.S. and Indian counterparts “underscored the importance of international law and peaceful settlement of disputes … including in the South China Sea,” indirectly urging Beijing to stop flexing its muscles in pressing territorial claims in the East and South China seas.

Some analysts say Abe has played his hand well regarding the relationship with the U.S.

“I think Mr. Abe is doing well in strengthening deterrence of the Japan-U.S. alliance. The security legislation should be a plus for Southeast Asian nations as well, because it bolsters the U.S. presence in the region,” said Tsuneo Watanabe, director for policy research at the think tank Tokyo Foundation.

“But it is also important that Japan and the United States step up engagement with China in a way to guide it into fine-tuning its assertive and aggressive posture (in a shift) toward regional cooperation,” he said.