Channel NewsAsia

Japan to proclaim right to "collective self defence"

The Japanese government will Tuesday proclaim the right to send its soldiers into battle even when the country is not under direct attack, in the most significant recasting of military policy since the pacifist constitution was written.

TOKYO: The Japanese government will Tuesday proclaim the right to send its soldiers into battle even when the country is not under direct attack, in the most significant recasting of military policy since the pacifist constitution was written.

Conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to crown months of political horse-trading when his cabinet formally endorses a reinterpretation of rules that have banned the use of armed force except in very narrowly-defined circumstances.

Despite widespread public opposition that boiled over at the weekend when a middle-aged man attempted suicide by setting himself on fire in Tokyo, Abe will invoke the right to exercise so-called "collective self-defence".

"The government has studied whether there is a defect in the current legal framework in protecting people's lives and property and Japan's safety... and we'll write the necessary legislation," top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told a regular press conference.

"Naturally we'll have parliamentary debate in the legislative process, through which we will make detailed explanation to people," said Suga, the chief cabinet secretary.

While the coming-into-force of the move is dependent on passing through parliament, this appears to be largely a formality because Abe's Liberal Democratic Party controls both chambers.

Abe had originally planned to change Article 9 of the US-imposed constitution adopted after World War II, which renounces "the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes".

But unable to muster the supermajority he needed in both houses and unlikely to get an endorsement from the public in the required referendum, he changed tack, using what opponents say is slight of hand to change what the clause means.

Under the new interpretation, Japanese troops will be able to come to the aid of allies -- primarily the US -- if they come under attack from a common enemy, even if Japan is not the object of the attack.

Supporters say the change is necessary because of the worsening security situation in East Asia, where an ever-more-confident China is pushing its territorial claims and an erratic North Korea is threatening stability.

The move has received backing from Washington, which has long encouraged Japan to take on more of a role in a very lopsided defence treaty.

But it has caused anger at home, where the pacifism on which the constitution is built is an article of faith for many Japanese.

At least half the population is against a more aggressive military stance, according to weekend newspaper polls.

Hundreds, and sometimes thousands of people have turned out to protest against the change at various demonstrations over recent weeks.

While the anger has been palpable, Sunday's dramatic suicide bid, in which a protester doused himself in flammable liquid and set himself on fire near a busy Tokyo train station, was the most extreme example of the strength of feeling.

Japan's well-equipped Self Defence Forces, which were launched exactly 60 years ago Tuesday, have never fired a shot in battle, although they have conducted humanitarian missions.

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