the government has not changed its interpretation of the war-renouncing Constitution in relation to the newly reviewed Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines, Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto said Oct. 13.Rather, Hashimoto said, the government has clarified the Self-Defense Forces’ roles in emergencies.The prime minister made the remarks in reply to questions from Ichiro Ozawa, leader of the largest opposition party, Shinshinto, during a session of the Lower House Budget Committee.Ozawa pointed out that the new guidelines, which were completed last month after the first review in almost two decades, state that Japan will provide materials, petroleum, oil and lubricants for U.S. aircraft and vessels as part of Japan’s rear-area support. “The activities were something totally prohibited during the (1991) Gulf War,” Ozawa said. “It means the government has clearly changed its stance on the matter.”However, Hashimoto maintained that the government has not shifted on the matter but has made clear what the SDF can do in emergencies that may affect Japan. Unswayed, Ozawa criticized the government, saying it illegitimately altered an important principle to accommodate temporary changes in Japanese-U.S. relations. “It is dangerous for the government to decide security-related matters without either Diet discussions or approval by the Cabinet,” Ozawa said.Because the changes are not included in a treaty but are included in the “guidelines,” they do not even carry the signatures of the two nations, Ozawa said. Calling for Diet involvement in security-related issues, Ozawa added Shinshinto has discussed the matter and has concluded that Japan should play a positive part in the international community. “Shinshinto thinks that Japan should take military steps to comply with the decisions made by the United Nations,” he said.During the committee meeting, Hashimoto said the Constitution imposes strict restrictions on the SDF. During his rare appearance in the committee session, Ozawa severely criticized Hashimoto for his ill-fated Cabinet appointment of a lawmaker who had been previously been convicted of bribery. “The incident has questioned the leadership of the prime minister,” Ozawa said, referring to Koko Sato, who shortly after being named head of the Management and Coordination Agency stepped down amid a huge outcrySato, convicted in 1986 of accepting a bribe in connection with the 1970s Lockheed payoff scandal, stepped down Sept. 22 amid the public outcry and political turmoil — 12 days after having been named by Hashimoto as the agency chief.Ozawa grilled Hashimoto for 2 1/2 hours during the committee meeting. It is rare for a lawmaker, even one with the stature of Ozawa, who has served in the legislature for 28 years, to question a prime minister for such an extended period of time. His appearance in the question-and-answer session marked the actual start of debate during the 75-day extraordinary Diet session, which convened Sept. 29.
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