Japan has been steadily building up its military ties with the United States in the five years since the enactment of landmark national security legislation that allows for collective self-defense.

Saturday marked the fifth anniversary of the enactment of the legislation, which allows for the use of force overseas to help a friendly country under attack.

Japan, which changed its interpretation of the pacifist Constitution to pave the way for the legislation, has boosted Self-Defense Force activities to protect U.S. warships and aircraft under the legislation.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga hopes to beef up his country’s alliance with the United States to counter China’s military expansion in the East and South China seas, taking over the policy of his predecessor, Shinzo Abe.

“The Japan-U.S. alliance is stronger than ever. Our deterrence and response capabilities have increased,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a news conference Friday, emphasizing the significance of the national security laws.

“We can now actively contribute to the peace and stability of the international community,” Kato also said.

According to the Defense Ministry, activities to protect U.S. military weapons and equipment based on the legislation were conducted twice in 2017, 16 times in 2018 and 14 times last year.

Multinational joint exercises, including those to protect and rescue Japanese nationals under threat in overseas disasters or terrorist attacks, have also been held since last year.

None of the activities include circumstances where there is a present danger to Japan, but the legislation allows the country to exercise its right to collective self-defense under such circumstances.

A source said that the activities have increased the joint response abilities of Japan and the United States.

“An alliance that helps each other makes their bond stronger,” a senior ministry official said.

“If we, Japan, and the United States, can cooperate in times of peace, that will raise our deterrence and make other countries think twice about ‘changing the status quo by force,'” the official added.

Meanwhile, critics worry that increased cooperation between the SDF and the U.S. military may increase the possibility that Japan will be caught up in a possible conflict between Beijing and Washington.

“The national security legislation was drawn up to enable the SDF to use force together if the U.S. military comes under attack,” Tomoko Tamura, policy chief of the opposition Japanese Communist Party, told a news conference Friday.

“We want to dispute the constitutionality of the legislation itself,” she added, aiming to debate the issue with the Suga administration at the next extraordinary session of the Diet.

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