National / Politics

Abe aims to formally authorize SDF ship inspections beyond Japanese waters

by Masaaki Kameda

Staff Writer

The Abe administration proposed Friday expanding the geographic range of ship inspections that can be conducted by the Self-Defense Forces beyond Japan.

Administration officials said this would allow Japan to actively participate in cargo ship inspections and contribute to “global peace and security” in line with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push to give the SDF a greater role abroad.

The proposal came during the third round of weekly talks on security legislation between the Liberal Democratic Party and coalition partner Komeito.

Current law on ship inspection operations allows the SDF to inspect ships and their cargo “in Japanese waters or on the surrounding high seas” in the event of “emergencies in areas around Japan” that pose a serious threat to national peace and security.

The law stipulates that such operations need U.N. Security Council resolutions or approval of the nation whose flag the ship is flying, as well as the consent of the ship’s captain.

Focal points of the proposal include whether it would allow forcible inspections without approval from the ship’s captain, Komeito lawmaker Kiyohiko Toyama told reporters after the talks.

“There could be resistance from the captain of the ship,” Toyama said. “There was a vigorous discussion on whether to permit the SDF to take forcible actions to eliminate opposition and on what kind of authority to give them regarding the use of weapons during such a situation.”

Also on the table was a revision to the law allowing the SDF to rescue Japanese nationals caught up in overseas emergencies. The SDF is only allowed to transport Japanese nationals in such situations.

Under the Cabinet decision last July to reinterpret the Constitution, the SDF would be allowed to conduct rescue missions abroad under certain conditions. These include gaining the consent of the government with jurisdiction over the crisis location, and that the government in question still wields authority where the SDF plans to operate and no “quasi-state organization” exists there.

Komeito members expressed concern that it isn’t clear how Japan will determine whether the government in question is still in control of a given area, Toyama said.

During the meeting, the administration also proposed simplifying procedures for the SDF to provide supplies and services to foreign armed forces other than the United States and Australia, with which Japan already has bilateral acquisition and cross-servicing agreements, or ACSAs.

The ACSA framework stipulates mutual provision of supplies, including food, water and fuel, and services such as transportation and repair, between the SDF and a foreign military.

The LDP-Komeito talks are being held to iron out differences over the more than 10 security-related bills the administration plans to submit to the Diet during the session lasting through June 24.