Major opposition parties have agreed to press the government to cancel its plan to dispatch Maritime Self-Defense Force units to the Middle East following the Iranian missile attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq on Wednesday.
Some in the ruling bloc have started to express concern over the dispatch, which is intended to gather information to ensure the safety of shipping lanes in the region, amid tensions that could continue to escalate if the United States and Iran engage in a cycle of retaliation. The missile attack followed the U.S. airstrike last week that killed a top commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
At a meeting on Wednesday, the Diet affairs chiefs of opposition parties, including the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, agreed that they will call on the government to withdraw the Dec. 27 Cabinet decision on the MSDF deployment.
“The planned dispatch deviates from Japan’s neutral stance” in its Middle East diplomacy, CDP Diet affairs chief Jun Azumi told reporters after the meeting. “Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s decision is wrong.”
“We can’t expose Self-Defense Forces members to danger based on such vague legal grounds as ‘survey and research,'” Democratic Party for the People leader Yuichiro Tamaki said at a news conference. “We are against the deployment.”
Former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who currently sits as an independent, said, “The situation has changed since the Cabinet decision. It will become a major topic in the coming ordinary Diet session.” The 150-day regular session of the Diet is slated to begin Jan. 20.
The government’s insistence on going ahead with the mission gives the opposition bloc further ammunition to question it in the Diet in the wake of other scandals such as the one involving Tsukasa Akimoto, a Lower House lawmaker and a former member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, who was arrested last month for allegedly receiving bribes from a Chinese company planning to run a casino resort in Japan.
The opposition side intends to press the government over the MSDF deployment issue at off-session hearings of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Security and the House of Councilors’ Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense, both slated for Jan. 17.
Meanwhile, Fumio Kishida, chairman of the LDP’s Policy Research Council, told reporters at the party headquarters that “preparations should continue” for the MSDF dispatch, suggesting that the mission will take place as scheduled.
But some in the ruling party have voiced concern over deteriorating security conditions in the Middle East.
One former Cabinet minister noted Japan’s alliance with the United States as a source of concern, saying that there is fear that MSDF members may become a target of attacks once they are dispatched on the mission. “So we need to be cautious.”
The MSDF units “can’t go (to the Middle East) if it becomes a battle zone,” a mid-ranking LDP lawmaker said.
“The Cabinet decision has been made, but we may have to consider delaying the dispatch depending on circumstances,” said a senior official with Komeito, the coalition partner of the LDP. “It’s a difficult situation.”