• Kyodo

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The government said Thursday that the Japan-U.S. alliance has become “stronger than ever” as the Tokyo marked the second anniversary of the enforcement of controversial security legislation that has expanded the role of the Self-Defense Forces.

“The deterrence force has improved,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference. “Japan’s own efforts to defend its own country are also effective in defense cooperation with the United States.”

Adm. Katsutoshi Kawano, the top uniformed SDF officer, said at a separate news conference, “The legislation is taking root inside the SDF as we have been engaging in training and actual missions. We believe it has largely contributed to improving the reliability of the Japan-U.S. alliance.”

The legislation, which took effect on March 29, 2016, enables U.S. and Japanese troops to work together closer than ever in both peacetime and during contingencies, including in situations where Japan judges the need to exercise the right to collective self-defense — defending allies under armed attack even when Japan itself is not attacked.

The removal of a ban on exercising that right has been seen by supporters as a major postwar policy shift that still adheres to the war-renouncing pacifist Constitution. But opponents staged massive protests during Diet deliberations on the legislation.

Under the legislation, the SDF engaged in two missions to protect U.S. vessels and aircraft for the first time last year, according to the Defense Ministry.

But details, such as exactly when and where the activities took place, have not been disclosed, leaving questions about government accountability.