Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may use an address to Australia’s parliament this week to outline plans for expanding his nation’s military role to collective self-defense, a shift that’s supported by the U.S. and opposed by China and a majority of Japan’s people.
“Abe’s speech to the Australian parliament will be of much broader significance than just its part in Australia-Japan relations,” Greg Sheridan, foreign editor of The Australian newspaper, wrote in an editorial yesterday. “The whole world, or certainly the entire global strategic class, will be watching.”
Abe will appoint a minister to shepherd laws enabling Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to support allies, he said in an interview with the Yomiuri newspaper published today. The cabinet on July 1 approved a reinterpretation of Japan’s pacifist constitution to allow military action in concert with other nations when Japan’s security is at risk.
Since taking office in December 2012 Abe has sought to bolster Japan’s security stance amid a territorial dispute with an increasingly assertive China and concerns about the strength of the country’s alliance with the U.S. He increased the defense budget after 11 years of decline, passed an unpopular law toughening penalties for leaking state secrets, and loosened restrictions on defense exports.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. may win approval to export to the U.S. sensors for use in missiles that would then be sold to Qatar, the Nikkei newspaper reported today. During his Australia visit, Abe will sign trade and defense technology agreements that may include the sale of Japanese submarine technology.
Even as China expands its military presence in the region and claims huge swathes of the resources-rich East and South China Seas as sovereign territory, Abe’s public remains concerned that a wider military remit might drag Japan into a conflict after almost 70 years of peace.
Two media surveys before the cabinet’s move found half or more of respondents opposed collective self-defense, even as Abe repeatedly explained the rationale for the change. Support for the cabinet fell afterward, according to a Kyodo News survey, with a majority of respondents saying they opposed the reinterpretation.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called Japan’s openness to collective defense an important step that will make the security alliance between the two nations more effective. China expressed opposition, with its Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei saying Japan’s government had been “fabricating” a Chinese threat for domestic political purposes.