Japan’s Cabinet Agrees to Allow Military to Help Defend Allies

Japan’s cabinet passed a resolution expanding the role of the military to include the defense of allies, reinterpreting the pacifist constitution in place for nearly 70 years, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said.

The government will now submit bills to parliament in the autumn for the changes to take effect. Thousands of opponents to the policy gathered outside Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s residence last night, some calling for his resignation and criticizing his Buddhist-backed junior coalition partner New Komeito for compromising.

Abe has sought since taking office in December 2012 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.

Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito earlier agreed on the resolution before it was put to cabinet.

The resolution permits the use of a minimum amount of force to defend another country under attack if that nation has close ties with Japan, according to a draft of the document distributed earlier to reporters. That right may only be exercised if the attack poses a threat to Japan’s existence and if there is no other way of protecting Japanese people, according to the draft.

‘Put Brakes On’

Collective self-defense is currently regarded as forbidden under the constitution imposed by the U.S. after Japan’s World War II defeat. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has backed Abe’s proposed change, while South Korea and China, two nations that suffered under Japanese wartime aggression, have expressed concerns.

“In a sense, this issue is the biggest difference between the LDP and Komeito,” New Komeito deputy leader Kazuo Kitagawa told reporters. “We have been able to put the brakes on quite strongly in this area and if we were not in the coalition I don’t think that would have happened.”

China opposes the Japanese government “deliberately fabricating” a Chinese threat for domestic political purposes, its Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said today at a briefing in Beijing, when asked about the resolution on the right to collective self-defense. “For a long time the Japanese government has been stirring up troubles on historical issues,” Hong said.

“It’s only natural for us to wonder if Japan is going to change its path of peaceful development that it has long pursued after the World War,” he said.

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