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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe once again underlined the necessity of reinterpreting the war-renouncing Constitution to allow Japan to engage in collective self-defense during a debate Wednesday, while the main opposition leader failed to capitalize on the opportunity to attack Abe and roll back his influence within the ruling LDP-led coalition.

In the 45-minute debate, Abe reiterated his belief that Self-Defense Forces should engage in peacekeeping missions such as mine-sweeping in the Strait of Hormuz in order to protect national interests, even if such action costs SDF lives.

“If nobody removes the mines, there will be an economic panic (in Japan). And Japan will definitely suffer serious economic damages,” Abe said to Democratic Party of Japan leader Banri Kaieda, who asked in return if the prime minister thought it was necessary for SDF members to run the risk of death for the sake of protecting petroleum imports.

Some 80 percent of the tankers carrying petroleum to Japan pass through the strait, and mine-sweeping operations are one of a cluster of scenarios under consideration by the ruling camp as it moves to rework the nation’s defense posture.

Currently, SDF forces cannot remove mines from the sea unless a cease-fire agreement is reached in the affected area, as such action is deemed an offensive use of force, and is prohibited by the Constitution unless the country is under direct military attack.

While Abe made use of the session to renew his push for Cabinet approval on the right to collective defense, the debate was also crucial for Kaieda whose leadership has been called into question by ranking DPJ members.

Kaieda insisted the DPJ was firm on its refusal to back Abe, while the prime minister countered by saying that the DPJ has shown it does not have a solid consensus on the issue.

Kaieda was elected to the DPJ leadership on the promise of reviving the party’s fortunes following defeats in the 2012 Lower House election and the 2013 Upper House election.

But ranking officials such as former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara have signaled that Kaieda should step down ahead of party elections in September 2015, citing lackluster performance.

Abe aide remark stirs ire

KYODO

An aide to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe commented on the separation of state and religion Tuesday in a remark that could be interpreted as putting pressure on a Buddhist-backed party dragging its feet over Abe’s proposed defense reforms.

Isao Iijima, special adviser to the Cabinet, told an audience in Washington that relations between New Komeito and supporter Soka Gakkai could come into question if the government changes its current position on the separation of state and religion.

As junior partner in Abe’s coalition, New Komeito has so far resisted Abe’s push to lift the ban on collective self-defense.

“If the legal interpretation of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau were to be changed,” the relation between New Komeito and Soka Gakkai could be criticized as going against the principle of separating state and religion, Ijima said.

Abe has already urged the ruling coalition to endorse proposed revisions to the interpretation of the Constitution by the end of the current Diet session on June 22.

But New Komeito defended its relationship with Soka Gakkai on its website.

“Successive governments have consistently upheld the constitutionality of the New Komeito-Soka Gakkai relationship, maintaining for decades that it does not violate the principle of the separation of religion and state.”