News / Asia

Japanese PM Defends 'Collective Self-Defense' Push

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a press conference at his official residence in Tokyo, July 1, 2014.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a press conference at his official residence in Tokyo, July 1, 2014.

Japan’s conservative government is making the most significant change in interpretation to its pacifist Constitution since the U.S.-written charter went into effect 67 years ago. That is generating a mixed reaction at home and abroad, especially in the countries that suffered from brutal Japanese colonialism in the first half of the 20th century.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is defending his controversial push to reinterpret the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution.

Under the new rules approved by the Cabinet Tuesday, Japan's military would be allowed to exercise the right to "collective self-defense."

Speaking with reporters Tuesday, Abe said there has been a misunderstanding that the changes will mean Japan could become engulfed in war to help other countries.

The Japanese prime minister says the reinterpretation of the 1947 Constitution in no way changes its norms, rather is “about the minimum necessary measures for our self defense.”

China immediately expressed concern.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei says Beijing opposes Tokyo’s move of “deliberately fabricating a China threat so as to serve a domestic political purpose.”

Hong said Japan must respect its neighbors’ security concerns, not harm China’s national sovereignty and security and not damage regional peace and stability.

A man shouts slogans over a public-address system during a protest outside the Japanese prime minister's office, July 1, 2014.A man shouts slogans over a public-address system during a protest outside the Japanese prime minister's office, July 1, 2014.
A man shouts slogans over a public-address system during a protest outside the Japanese prime minister's office, July 1, 2014.
A man shouts slogans over a public-address system during a protest outside the Japanese prime minister's office, July 1, 2014.

This week, demonstrators launched protests in both Tokyo and Seoul to express opposition to the loosening of restrictions on Japan’s Self-Defense Forces.

A crowd, estimated at between 10,000 and 40,000 people, on Monday evening assembled in front of the prime minister’s office in Tokyo.

Some carried signs equating Abe with Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler.  Others exhorted the Japanese leader not to “destroy” the constitution.

Among those joining the protest was Jinishiro Motoyama of Students Against Secret Protection Law. The university student expressed concern the prime minister’s decision could be the first step on the path back to Japanese militarism.

“This is a significant change in the Japanese history. It’s not a good way or a clever way to go…" Motoyama said. "If Mr. Abe changes Article 9 we can’t imagine what is going [to go] on with the next Cabinet or in the future.”

The protest occurred a day after a middle-aged man set himself on fire (and survived) outside a busy Tokyo railway station after shouting opposition to the change.

On Tuesday, dozens of South Koreans gathered in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul.

They called for the Japanese prime minister to scrap lifting the ban on collective self defense.

Some other South Koreans say a more cautious reaction is prudent.

Political science professor Park Hwee-rhak at Kookmin University in Seoul is one of them. He notes South Korea and Japan are in an “indirect alliance” because both host U.S. military bases intended to defend the two Asian neighbors. He says this means Seoul would need to cooperate with Tokyo if there is an attack on the South by North Korea.

Thus, Park said, South Korea “should not view Japan’s decision too emotionally.” In exchange for recognizing Japan’s right of collective self-defense, South Korea, he said, “should receive Japan’s promise that it will not adopt policies of militarism or territorial expansion in the future.”

After the Cabinet’s decision in Tokyo, South Korea’s foreign ministry spokesman Noh Kwang-il told reporters that any Japanese exercise of collective self defense affecting security and national interests on the Korean peninsula “cannot be accepted unless we request it or agree to it.”

Jeffrey Hornung, an associate professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii, says the new interpretation by Japan’s government will be especially welcomed at the Pentagon.

“The U.S. is going to welcome this, definitely, given that the U.S., for a long time, has wanted more out of its Japanese ally," Hornung said.

If Japanese lawmakers agree, the Cabinet’s move will allow Japan’s armed forces to rescue foreign troops or United Nations’ personnel conducting peacekeeping operations if attacked. And Japanese forces would be able to expand the use of their weapons. But the government says the modification still will not permit dispatching Japanese troops to combat zones.

The changes will have to be approved by a simple majority in both houses of Japan’s parliament. The governing Liberal Democratic Party enjoys a comfortable majority in the more powerful lower house and controls the upper chamber with the support of a coalition partner.

Public opinion polls commissioned by Japanese media in the past week indicate at least half of the domestic population oppose a more assertive military stance.

The left-of-center Asahi Shimbun says such a significant shift should occur through a formal amendment to the constitution, not based on a changing interpretation by the government. It calls Abe’s approach “theater of the absurd.”

The China Daily, in an editorial last month, said “countries in the region should be vigilant against Abe’s moves as Japan is the only Asian country that has inflicted tremendous harm on its neighbors with its military aggression before and during World War II.”

Tuesday marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Self Defense Forces, which replaced the defeated Imperial Japan military disbanded by the victorious Allied forces.

 Victor Beattie in Washington, Youmi Kim in Seoul and Shannon Van Sant in Beijing contributed to this report

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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Comment Sorting
by: Anonymous
July 02, 2014 12:47 AM
No one is supporting him,
South Korea and China also people do not support the government.
War is about to be started in their propaganda.
There are guy trying to make money in the war of Asian.
Government does not take responsibility for the war, the President is not committed suicide.
He just simply instruction.
Because, since receiving threat received a huge amount of money.
Where colonial powers in the world? They are working all the time.

by: Anonymous
July 02, 2014 12:40 AM
The land of Canaan is to know Japan's, Bill Gates has started to make a villa.
The real purpose of those who are running this world, making their country to find the land of Canaan. War and terrorism is going to match pump Where there are genuine Judah.
It is known as Japan's, they thought the strategy off the Japanese.

(Took the place of production of rice staple food of Japanese) nuclear plant explosion and seismic velocity
(Carlyle acquired snack company of Japan) genetically modified foods.

Attack on Japan by China and South Korea

Acceptance exercise of the right of collective self-defense
Immigration legislation

Japan's territory, such as the United Kingdom, which was surrounded by the sea

It is a plan that they can take over Japan, waging a war in the world for the new world order.

by: gen from: japan
July 01, 2014 6:20 PM
Japan forgot the real war.This collective measures is only the beginning of collapse of Japan.
The defense system and cities don't endure the real war.Mr.Abe decision is like just "we can start to play just childish war game"to the world.
If a real war shoud happen,japan would disappere only just one day.
There are over 50 nuclear power plants around the coast in Japan.If 2 or3 were blasted by attack, it would be like 20 or 30 nuclear bomb dropped and damage would not be recocered.
The neighbor countries don't need worry about Mr Abe decision.His decision is only stance to US.US persuation is hard.Japan don't think the prepareness of domestic defence if a war actually happened. So US consultant business like Ukraine begine in Japan.Mr Abe decision would bring and import US war business to Asia.The most happiest group in the world is US republican party.They would say "Let's get start war business in Asia.happy!".

by: LiveFree from: US
July 01, 2014 1:05 PM
To keep peace, one must prepare for war. Freedom is NOT FREE. Weakness only invites aggression. Should Japan need to be defeated in a quick war to wake up to the new reality?
In Response

by: Jay
July 16, 2014 5:57 AM
Suzu, by "again", do you mean WW2? If so, you do realize the USA goaded Japan into attacking it. The US fleet was always stationed in San Diego, but FDR ordered it moved to Hawaii and fired the Admiral of the fleet Richardson, for refusing to move the fleet (Richardson protested that it was suicide).

But "LiveFree" is also a bit crazy. Freedom is an abstract value and LiveFree probably thinks he is "free" despite the NSA wiretapping his phone, the IRS targeting him if he starts a political group it disagrees with, and massive regulations on him if he starts a business. The job of a government is to control humans, so if you are fighting and dying for a government, you are not "free". Either true freedom is found in death or enlightenment. Being able to do whatever you want is not "freedom" either, it is simply a form of decadence that America tries to pass off as "freedom". It's no wonder then, that America's major cultural exports are warfare, pornography, and fast food. Meanwhile a child cannot pray in school in the USA if he speaks aloud or wear a t-shirt advocating his religious beliefs because it might "disturb" other students. The good is banned, but the evil is tolerated.
In Response

by: Suzu
July 02, 2014 4:55 AM
Freedom does not mean freedom to ignore rule of law. By encouraging Abe to ignore constitution, U.S. will face the consequence in the long run. Japan might become rogue state again.

by: manhow
July 01, 2014 12:37 PM
Japan now is not like the old Nazi-Japan. All the world know that except Ms C. He's stronger... but He knows THE COST of peace. It seems He will keep it at any cost. It's good for the world and for Asia. Go ahead Samurai,... LET'S protect the peace. Ppl need your help!
In Response

by: Suzu
July 02, 2014 8:09 AM
Although Japan is not like the old Nazi-Japan, Abe is an admirer of old Nazi-Japan. Last December he visited Yasukini shirine, which openly claim Japan liberated Asian countries from Western powers. Yasukini shirine is a national religion as dangerous as Islamic fundamentalism. International society should never welcome religious nationalist Abe.

by: krishnananda kini from: mangalore, india
July 01, 2014 11:27 AM
China is only country in the world which gifted to another country, it's otherwise well guarded nuclear and missile technology. China is a rabidly atheist State and Pakistan rabidly fundamentalist and theocratic State, thereby consider every Marxist infidel to be ultimately killed. China a communist country joined capitalist and theocratic countries to defeat another fraternal communist country Soviet Union. During 1979 China attacked small and fledging communist Vietnam. Very good case of Pot calling Cattle black.

by: Kim Nguyen from: Canada
July 01, 2014 9:55 AM
Of course.... China would be happy to join in the protest! A wolf can cry, loudest!
P.s. China leaders can do whatever they want, cuz there's never such a protest occurs . Because, people can't protest. No chance!)

by: Suzu
July 01, 2014 8:40 AM
First of all SDF itself is unconstitutional. Japan should have amended article 9. Those who claim SDF is constitutional have no right to accuse Abe of ignoring rule of law.

by: gen from: japan
July 01, 2014 7:40 AM
Maybe it would be disappointed to the world.Japan would not use forces if jap people were not there in attacked foreigh ships or sites.Japanese ignored the non-japanese board vehicles.If not hurt Japanese national interest,Japan would never use forces.
In Response

by: Hoang from: Canada
July 01, 2014 3:58 PM
Meanbill or Chinese national,
Present Japan can defeat China by itself, without U.S. help. After all the Chinese military modernization after defeat by Vietnamese militia in 1979, Chinese military have no experience and don't how to fight.
In Response

by: meanbill from: USA
July 01, 2014 10:50 AM
Let the little island of the rising sun, (that once was the empire of the rising sun), build their military forces, as much as they want... the ancestors of the people, of the little island of the rising sun, are spinning in their graves, listening to the whining and crying, of the little islanders now.....the little island of the rising sun, (that once was an empire), doesn't have any friends or allies in Asia, and if not for the US, they'd almost be defenseless.....

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