Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is moving ahead this week with legislation that would boost the military's international role, in a significant shift of the country's pacifist policies.
His ruling coalition is set to reach formal agreement Monday on a package of bills that would loosen restrictions imposed on the military by the U.S. occupation after World War II. They would allow Japan to contribute more to the U.S.-Japan alliance, as the countries agreed to in revised security guidelines signed last month.
The proposals are expected to be approved by the Cabinet later this week for submission to parliament. The legislation is considered likely to pass this summer, given the comfortable majority held by Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, Komeito.
The changes would remove geographic restrictions on where the military can operate, and under certain conditions, allow it to defend allies for the first time since World War II. They would also make it easier for Japan to provide logistical support for other militaries and to participate in international peacekeeping operations.
“This marks a turning point in which Japan moves away from traditional isolationism where Japan doesn't contribute too much to international security to a more cooperative, proactive internationalism,” said security analyst Narushige Michishita at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo.
He said that the legislation would open the way for Japan to work more closely with not only the United States, but also others in Asia such as Australia, India and Southeast Asian partners, as they cope with China's military rise.
Japan's pacifist constitution limits the military, officially called the Self-Defense Forces, to defense of the country. Abe's Cabinet approved a contentious reinterpretation of the constitution last July that expands what is allowed under self-defense.
The legislation places conditions on when the military can do more internationally, but an opposition lawmaker called the conditions too vague. Yukihisa Fujita, director-general of the international department of the Democratic Party of Japan, also said that U.S.-Japan cooperation should be limited to the Far East.
“The bills go beyond the constitution and the U.S.-Japan security pact,” he said.