The Lower House began deliberating on an antipiracy bill Tuesday to create a permanent law that would let the Maritime Self-Defense Force protect ships of any nationality against pirates and remove certain limits on the MSDF’s use of force.

Prime Minister Taro Aso told the chamber that a new antipiracy law must be enacted quickly because of the dramatic increase in pirate attacks off Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, and the need for Japan to play a bigger role in solving the international problem.

“Piracy is a life-or-death matter that threatens Japan’s national interests of securing the safety of transport by sea,” Aso said. “The pirates off the coast of Somalia are especially a threat to the international community, including Japan, and emergency measures need to be taken.”

The Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc and the government want the bill passed before the Diet session ends in June. But if the opposition camp refuses to cooperate, the ruling bloc might have to extend the session.

The Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition force, is urging the government to amend the bill to require prior Diet approval for a dispatch. Aso had the MSDF dispatch two destroyers for antipiracy patrols off Somalia in March.

“The antipiracy measures bill lacks a provision for advance Diet approval should the MSDF be dispatched in case of an emergency — but it is necessary from the viewpoint of civilian control,” DPJ lawmaker Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi said. “We also think it is necessary that a dispatch plan clarifying the mission and region be reported to the Diet.”

Last month, Japan for the first time used the maritime police-action provision of the Self-Defense Forces Law to send two MSDF destroyers to Somalia. However, the MSDF is only allowed to escort vessels linked to Japan, including Japanese-registered ships or foreign ships with Japanese nationals or cargo on board.

Nevertheless, the destroyers seem to be scaring potential pirates away from freighters unrelated to Japan as well.

The MSDF is not allowed to attack pirates except in limited circumstances, including in an emergency evacuation or in self-defense based on Article 7 of the Police Execution of Duties Law, which limits the use of arms to incidents deemed necessary.

The new law would permit the MSDF to fire at pirate boats that ignore warning shots.

Arguing emphatically against the bill was Japanese Communist Party lawmaker Seiken Akamine. “We absolutely cannot tolerate this bill, which would pave the way for the use of armed forces abroad — which is prohibited by Article 9 of the Constitution — by enabling the SDF to be dispatched abroad and expanding their right to use weapons,” Akamine said.

Aso contends that the antipiracy measures do not violate the Constitution, which prohibits the use of force, on the grounds that piracy is a crime.

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