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Japan's Lower House of Parliament Approves Non-Combat Military Support - 2001-10-18

Japanese lawmakers in the lower house of parliament have approved a bill for the nation's self defense forces to provide non-combat military support for the U.S. led war on terrorism. The move is a sensitive issue because the country's Constitution bans the use of force to settle international disputes.

The powerful lower house of Parliament gave Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi an important victory Thursday when it authorized the Japanese military to offer rear-guard support for the U.S. led war on terrorism.

Lawmakers approved a bill that clears the way for the Japanese military to transport weapons and other supplies, as well as provide medical and logistical help to the U.S. military and its allies.

The leading opposition party, the Democrats, did not support the legislation, which was presented to Parliament by the prime minister. But it was still passed since the ruling coalition occupies the majority of seats.

The legislation goes next to the upper house of Parliament, where it is certain to pass.

Toshihiro Nakayama is a research fellow at the Center for American Studies in Tokyo. He says that the legislation reflects the view of most Japanese people, who tell pollsters that they want to support the U.S. led war on terrorism. "Of course it is in support of the United States, but it is also shows support of the global coalition. I think that is the mentality of the Japanese people," he says. "We realize that this is a fight against terrorism. We realize that the September 11 attack was not only an attack against the United States, but against the fundamental principle of the international society in which we live," he says.

But the legislation is a sensitive matter in Japan because it is a departure from the country's post-World War Two Constitution, which forbids any military action unless Japan itself is threatened or directly attacked.

About 2,000 protesters gathered in front of Parliament Thursday, holding banners denouncing Japanese expected involvement with war. The bill is also a concern for Japan's Asian neighbors, such as China and South Korea. They say they have bitter memories of Japan's wartime aggression and that they fear Japan may now be re-militarizing.

Analyst Nakayama dismissed such concerns saying that Japan is simply intent contributing to the war on terrorism. He notes that the country was deeply embarrassed during the Gulf War when it was accused of so-called checkbook diplomacy for sending money and not troops to aid the war effort.

"Going back to the early 1990's and the Gulf War, Japan was not prepared," he says. "The major thinking in the government is that this time we have to act in a decisive way," he says.

The lower house of Parliament on Thursday also passed a bill designed to allow Japanese troops to protect U.S. military bases within its borders.