WASHINGTON - Japan and the United States have agreed that Tokyo’s landmark decision to reinterpret the Constitution to expand the role of its armed forces should be reflected in new bilateral defense cooperation guidelines due out by the end of the year.
After talks Friday with Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Washington “strongly supports” what he said was a historic decision by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to lift the government’s long-held ban on collective self-defense.
“This bold, historic, landmark decision will enable Japan to significantly increase its contribution to regional and global security and expand its role on the world stage,” Hagel told a joint news conference.
Onodera said he explained to Hagel the Cabinet’s decision to enable the Self-Defense Forces to defend allies under armed attack through collective self-defense. He also said Tokyo and Washington agreed to compile a midterm report on the guideline revision, the first in 17 years, to “raise transparency” and keep Japan’s neighbors updated.
“We will accelerate our work to make (the revision) epoch-making,” Onodera said.
The public remains divided over whether the government, bound to an exclusively defense-oriented policy under the Constitution, should give up pacifism so it can to exercise the right to collective self-defense, which might drag it into a war.
Despite the Cabinet’s landmark decision on July 1, Japan needs to prepare the legal basis for its execution by revising several laws to authorize the future use of the U.N. right.
Abe decided to change the interpretation held by past governments, which determined that Japan cannot exercise the right because doing so would exceed the requirement for using “the minimum” amount of force needed for Japan’s defense.
Abe has indicated he will take the time required to seek public support for the contentious issue, after his support ratings sank in opinion polls. “It’s going to be a huge amount of work on everything from the gray zone to collective self-defense,” Abe told reporters Friday in Papua New Guinea, the last leg of a three-nation tour. Gray zone incidents are those that stop short of full-fledged military attacks.
The guidelines, which were compiled in 1978 and then revised in 1997 to cope with threats from North Korea, detail the roles of the U.S. military and SDF in the event of a “contingency.”
“Japan’s collective self-defense decision and the revised defense guidelines will allow Japan to participate more actively in areas such as ballistic missile defense, counterproliferation, counterpiracy, peacekeeping, and a wide range of military exercises,” Hagel said, adding that Tokyo and Washington can work more closely on maritime security.
Japan and China are at odds over the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, called Diaoyu in China and Tiaoyutai by Taiwan, raising concerns about an unwanted clash.
Onodera said he agreed with Hagel that any attempt to change the status quo by using force is unacceptable in the East and South China seas, where China is involved in multiple territorial disputes with countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines.
On North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs, Onodera and Hagel agreed that Pyongyang’s activities pose a threat to Japan, the United States and South Korea.
The two meanwhile reaffirmed the plan to shift U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa in line with a bilateral agreement, Onodera said.