• Kyodo

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Akinori Eto, the newly appointed security legislation minister, said Wednesday he will try hard to win the public over on accepting the historic change in security policy that will let the Japanese military use force under the right to collective self-defense.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appointed him to the newly created post in Wednesday’s Cabinet reshuffle.

Eto, a 58-year-old Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker, is tasked with addressing concerns that Japan may depart from its decades-old pacifism policy and with smoothing the way toward passing the legal changes needed to let the Self-Defense Forces defend allies under armed attack — even when Japan itself is not facing a direct threat.

“I hope to prepare the legal framework for security vigorously in cooperation with other ministers, and make clear explanations to the public to bolster their support through Diet deliberations,” Eto said at a news conference.

In July, the Cabinet decided to reinterpret the war-renouncing Constitution, instead of formally amending it, to allow Japan to legally use collective self-defense. But a series of existing laws must be revised in the Diet next year to execute the decision, which has left the public divided.

Abe, who watched his approval ratings drop after the landmark decision to sidestep the Constitution, claims securing public approval for the change is a must. He also said his team will step up work to execute the change so Japan can respond to any contingency in a “seamless” manner.

“Based on the recognition that we should gain support from the people, I hope that Minister Eto will be able to fully capitalize on his knowledge and experience after working for years in the field of security policy,” Abe said at a news conference after the reshuffle, acknowledging that political battles might lay ahead in the legislature.

Doubling as defense minister, Eto will oversee the first revision in 17 years of Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines, expected take place by year-end, which could see an expanded role for the Self-Defense Forces emerge within the bilateral framework.

Eto said the guidelines need to be “consistent” with Japan’s future security posture, adding that he aims to bolster the capabilities of the SDF so they can “play the role that is expected at home and abroad.”

After retaining his post in Wednesday’s party leadership change, LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura said the government will first need to show “the big picture” of how Japan will revamp the legal basis for using collective self-defense.

“I have no clues at all about the schedule of future coalition talks,” Komura, who is close to Eto, told reporters.

Komura headed the talks between the LDP and its junior partner, New Komeito, on reviewing legal constraints for the SDF before the reinterpretation was approved by the Cabinet.

Abe is pushing to make Japan a “proactive” contributor to global peace, while seeking to strengthen the country’s defense capabilities amid a rising China and North Korea’s nuclear threat.

To avoid contingencies, the new defense minister called for dialogue “at various levels” with China, saying the establishment of an effective communication mechanism between Japan and China is important.

On the thorny issue of relocating the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa, Eto will likely be tested on his ability to appease local residents who are opposed to the controversial plan, and reducing the U.S. military footprint in Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military bases in the country.

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