Japan passes defense bill

Updated: 2015-07-16 09:40

By ZHAO SHENGNAN in Beijing and CHEN WEIHUA in Washington(China Daily USA)

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A committee of Japan's lower house passed controversial security bills aimed at beefing up the role of Japan's military on Wednesday, despite strong domestic protests and concerns among neighboring countries.

The approvals, after a vote sought by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling bloc, paved the way for a lower house vote, probably on Thursday. If passed, the bills would then be debated in the upper house. The ruling bloc dominates both houses of the Diet, Japan's legislature.

Observers said that if the bills become law, it would mark a historic shift for the officially pacifist nation, and such a move would require vigilance from Japan's neighbors, including China and South Korea.

The vote coincided with Beijing's announcement that Shotaro Yachi, the head of Japan's National Security Secretariat and a key foreign policy adviser to Abe, will visit China from Thursday to Saturday.

If enacted, the bills will allow the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to engage in armed conflicts overseas and help defend others, even if Japan is not attacked, under a policy called collective self-defense.

An expanded role for the Japanese military would mark a key departure from Japan's pacifist Constitution, especially the war-renouncing Article 9, which bans the country's armed forces from fighting overseas.

Angry Japanese protesters, reportedly numbering 60,000, on Wednesday called the bill unconstitutional and demanded Abe's resignation.

Lyu Yaodong, an expert on Japanese policies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the bills are actually warfare legislation presented as being in the name of peace.

The proposed measures go against the peaceful path that Japan has followed over the past decades, he said.

Polls by Japanese media show that the bills are unpopular among academics and the Japanese public.

That tension was on display on Wednesday as opposition lawmakers attempted to thwart the vote and hundreds of protesters chanted anti-war and anti-Abe slogans outside the parliament.

The legislation is far from being widely understood by the general public, Asahi Shimbun newspaper said in an editorial on Tuesday.

"We believe the Diet deliberations on the bills have failed to address a slew of fundamental questions, not just issues concerning constitutionality but also ones that are important from the viewpoint of how Japan's safety should be secured," the newspaper said.

Huo Jiangang, an expert on Japanese studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said the bills are likely to become law despite Abe's falling poll ratings.

US State Department spokesman John Kirby described the Japanese security legislation as a domestic matter for Japan to speak to.

"We certainly welcome, as we've said before, Japan's ongoing efforts to strengthen the alliance and to play a more active role in regional and international security activities, as reflected in our new guidelines for US-Japan defense cooperation," he told a daily briefing on Wednesday.

Former South Korea foreign minister Yu Myung-hwan said in Washington on Wednesday that some people in his country have voiced concerns and worries over the Japanese moves. But he thought that it would benefit South Korea in countering the threat from North Korea.

"We are asking why the Japanese are revising the constitution and normalizing their country," Hwang Jin Ha, chairman of the National Defense Committee of South Korea's National Assembly, said on Wednesday at a seminar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Abe's ruling bloc, which consists of his Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner the Komeito Party, has two-thirds of the seats in the lower house.

If a bill is passed in the lower house but is vetoed by the upper house, it can still be enacted if it secures more than two-thirds support in a new vote in the lower house.

The visit to Beijing by Yachi has been largely interpreted as a move to pave the way for an upcoming visit to China by Abe.

If that trip takes place, it will be the third meeting between Xi and Abe, but the previous two meetings - one last November and one in April of this year - both took place on the sidelines of international meetings.

Japanese newspapers reported that Abe is considering travelling to China around the time of a September 3 ceremony in Beijing to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII and the Chinese people's victory in the war of resistance against Japanese aggression. Last week Xi officially invited Abe to attend the event.

Many Chinese and Koreans are also expecting the Japanese right-wing prime minister to apologize and acknowledge Japanese WWII aggression in an upcoming August 15 statement.

Agencies contributed to this story.