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Sixth in a series

Staff writer

Yokohama-based peace activist Hiromichi Umebayashi hopes the July 12 Upper House election will be a critical test for Japan’s defense policy.

Umebayashi said campaign issues should include whether Japan should expand its defense cooperation with the United States as well as how it should address the global risk of nuclear proliferation. “The peace policies of the political parties have become unclear because of the ongoing political realignment,” he said in an interview, adding that the coming election will help sort things out.

Umebayashi, who has a doctorate in physics, is an international coordinator for the Pacific Campaign for Disarmament and Security, a civic group. Born in 1937, he has engaged in numerous activities against war and nuclear weapons.

His particular focus in the July election is on the Democratic Party of Japan, because it is the largest opposition party and the only one capable of challenging the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

The DPJ has not clarified its position on security and disarmament matters, he said, pointing to the party’s internal differences on defense issues. The DPJ was expanded in April through a merger with three other opposition forces.

The government has submitted controversial bills to the Diet that would enable Japan to provide support for the U.S. military in emergencies in areas surrounding Japan. Opponents such as Umebayashi fear the expanded security arrangements would only throw the Self-Defense Forces into the U.S. global strategy.

The bills are intended to implement measures spelled out in updated bilateral defense cooperation guidelines, which were adopted by the two countries last fall. Passage of the bills would “change the postwar social order based on the pacifist Constitution,” he said. “For or against, we must face the issue and debate.”

Umebayashi said the point of pre-election debate is to decide the fate of the bills. He said he hopes the DPJ will present a counterproposal on how Japan can ensure regional security.

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