National

Security bid too drastic: Komeito chief

by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Nobuhiro Kubo

Reuters

The leader of the ruling party’s smaller coalition partner said Friday that he does not agree with the defense policy changes that would allow Japanese forces to fight overseas to help allies, despite U.S. support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s review of the stance.

Abe is aiming to lift Japan’s ban on collective self-defense, which means helping an ally under attack, to bolster security ties with the United States as China expands its military and North Korea develops its nuclear capabilities.

The United States welcomed and supported Japan’s reassessment of its self-imposed ban on going to the aid of allies, the two countries said in a statement a day after Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama held talks in Tokyo on Thursday.

But Natsuo Yamaguchi, the head of New Komeito, said in an interview that he wanted to see the prohibition of Japanese forces going to the aid of allies maintained.

“For many years, the Cabinet Legislation Bureau . . . has been taking the view that the Constitution prohibits exercising the right of collective self-defense,” Yamaguchi said.

“Komeito shares that view . . . changing this view would be a drastic change. In a nutshell, that would lead to using force overseas,” he said.

The Cabinet Legislation Bureau is the government’s legal team and constitutional watchdog.

For decades, Japan has taken the position that while it has the right of collective self-defense, actually exercising it exceeds what is allowed by the U.S.-drafted, pacifist Constitution adopted after the war.

Yamaguchi said the show of support from the United States for Abe’s review of the issue did not necessarily mean the United States was trying to steer Japan’s domestic debate.

“What’s important is Japan’s own stance on the matter.”

Abe has often spoken of “escaping the postwar regime,” and some of Japan’s neighbors, particularly China, are wary of his moves to revise the war-renouncing Constitution.

Lifting the ban would be a major turning point for Japan’s security policy. Since its World War II defeat in 1945, Japan’s military has not engaged in any combat.

Proponents of the change say it would free up the military to work more closely with the armed forces of the United States and other allies. Critics say it would make Japan more likely to get sucked into overseas wars.

Opinion polls show a majority of voters oppose lifting the ban.

Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party enjoys a clear majority in the Lower House, but it needs New Komeito’s seats to maintain a majority in the Upper House, which can block bills.

Yamaguchi did not say he would pull his party out of the coalition over the defense issue but said the public did not want to see a confrontation between his party and the LDP.