Full debate kicked off Thursday on bills covering updated Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines with Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi stressing that the legislation will contribute to Japan’s peace and security.

“At this opportunity, we must clarify the significance of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty and establish necessary laws to enable bilateral cooperation to be undertaken effectively,” Obuchi told the Lower House Special Committee on Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation.

Japan’s cooperation with the U.S. under the bills will be conducted within the framework of the bilateral security pact, Obuchi added.

The guidelines, which were revised in 1997, will expand bilateral defense cooperation to cover emergencies in unspecified “areas surrounding Japan.” The bills for implementing the guidelines were submitted to the Diet by the government nearly a year ago.

Obuchi hopes to secure Lower House passage of the bills by the time he visits the U.S. for a meeting with President Bill Clinton in May.

During the committee’s first session, Obuchi reiterated the government’s position that a basic plan for cooperation with the U.S., including operations involving the Self-Defense Forces, should not require prior Diet approval in times of emergencies in unspecified areas surrounding Japan.

However, he did not rule out the possibility of revisions of bills related to Diet approval. “In cases of emergency, mandatory Diet approval may cause a problem because of the limited time the government will have, and it may not bring the bills’ effective into full play,” Obuchi said, responding to a question by Takahiro Yokomichi of the Democratic Party of Japan.

“But debate on this issue has just begun, and I hope this committee will fully discuss the matter,” he said.

Under the present wording of the bills, plans for SDF operations must be submitted to the legislature without delay, but Diet approval is not required. However, major opposition parties, including the DPJ and New Komeito, have demanded revisions on this point.

During Thursday’s session, Obuchi said he does not consider a green light from the Diet necessary for the basic plan because it is not directly related to people’s rights and duties, and such matters require swift decisions by the government.

Supporting Obuchi’s stance, Gen Nakatani, a committee member from the Liberal Democratic Party, urged the prime minister not to change the government’s stance regarding Diet approval, because such an OK in an emergency would most likely take at least a month.

But because the LDP lacks a majority in the House of Councilors even with its coalition partner, the Liberal Party, it must seek opposition support to get the bills through the Upper House, and to that end, the LDP may be forced to amend the bills.

Responding to criticism from the opposition camp that the definition of “emergencies in unspecified areas surrounding Japan” as stipulated in the bills is ambiguous, Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura repeated the government’s position that the phrase does not have any geographic implication and involves emergency cases that would affect Japan’s peace and security.

“‘Emergencies in unspecified areas surrounding Japan does not have a geographic implication. Thus, we cannot say whether Taiwan is included or not,” Komura said. China has voiced concerns that the wording in the guidelines might be interpreted to include any contingencies in the Taiwan Strait.

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