Japan’s cabinet has agreed on a proposal to end a ban on its military fighting abroad, a major shift away from the country’s post-war pacifism and a move that is riling China.
This is pretty much a done deal. This represents an extremely big shift in the way that Japan sees its military.
Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera confirmed the change on Tuesday, a dramatic step away from post-war pacifism and a political victory for the conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The change will significantly widen Japan’s military options by ending the ban on exercising “collective self-defence”, or aiding a friendly country under attack.
It will also relax limits on activities in UN-led peacekeeping operations and “grey zone” incidents short of full-scale war.
The proposal does not change the words of a US-drafted charter, rather the way the words are interpreted.
The charter, which has not been revised since it was adopted after Japan’s 1945 defeat, only allows force for self-defence.
In the capital, Tokyo, people gathered in front of Abe’s official residence to protest the plan to expand its military role abroad.
Hundreds of protesters, including pensioners and labour union members, marched carrying banners and shouting, “Don’t destroy Article 9” and “We’re against war.”
“I’m against the right of collective self defence, but more importantly, I’m against the way Abe is pushing this change through,” said 21-year-old university student Misa Machimura.
On Sunday, a man set himself on fire near a busy Tokyo intersection – a rare form of protest in Japan – after speaking out against Abe’s reinterpretation of Article 9.
Public opinion is divided on the proposed rule, and leading newspapers like the Asahi Shimbun have voiced opposition.
Victory for Abe
“This is pretty much a done deal,” Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from Tokyo, said, adding that the partners of the ruling coalition have also approved the change.
“This represents an extremely big shift in the way that Japan sees its military.”
Long constrained by its pacifist post-war constitution, Japan’s armed forces will gain an expanded range of military options, although the government would likely remain wary of putting boots on the ground in multilateral operations such as the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.
Abe has pushed for the change since taking office 18 months ago, despite wariness among many Japanese voters worried about entanglement in foreign wars, and angry at what some see as a gutting of Article 9 by ignoring formal amendment procedures.
The proposed change has also alarmed its neighbour, China, whose ties with Japan have frayed due to a maritime row in the East China Sea, mistrust, and the legacy of Japan’s past military aggression.