National / Politics

Japan eyes greater support for U.S. forces in contingencies

Kyodo

Japan and the United States are set to expand the scope of rear area assistance the Self-Defense Forces would provide to the American military in contingencies involving the Korean Peninsula as they seek to revise their defense cooperation guidelines later this year, a government source said Saturday in Tokyo.

In the revised guidelines, the two countries also envision protection by the SDF of U.S. vessels vigilant for missile launches or transporting Japanese nationals in the event the United States comes under armed attack.

In the first change of the guidelines in 17 years, the two sides also contemplate promotion of joint use of military bases by the SDF and U.S. forces, tighter surveillance and monitoring of areas near the Japan-held but disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and cooperation over cyberattacks and defense equipment, according to the source. The Senkaku Islands are also claimed by China.

Those points are expected to be included in an interim report to be compiled in September that will form the framework of revision in the defense cooperation guidelines.

The move comes in response to the ongoing efforts within the ruling coalition to review the nation’s security-related legal framework, including the possible reinterpretation of the pacifist Constitution to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense even when the country is not under direct attack.

In parallel with the interim report, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government plans to submit bills to the Diet to amend security-related laws, such as the law on dealing with contingencies in the area surrounding Japan and the SDF law.

Currently, the contingencies law limits the SDF to providing support to the United States in “rear areas” where no threat of combat exists.

But the envisioned revision of the defense cooperation guidelines would seek to expand the scope of such rear area support to include fuel supplies and medical assistance in areas other than the battlefield where actual fighting is taking place, according to the source.

Tighter monitoring of sea areas near the Senkaku Islands and measures against cyberattacks apparently reflect Tokyo’s intention to keep Beijing in check. China is often seen as the source of massive cyberattacks.

Japan and the United States agreed at the so-called two-plus-two security talks last October to revise the bilateral defense cooperation guidelines by the end of this year.