|Greater role in military necessary in Japan: panel
Citing threats from China and North Korea, a government-appointed panel has urged Japan to reinterpret its pacifist constitution to allow the use of military force to defend other countries.
The recommendation, submitted Thursday to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, sets the stage for his push to allow the military to play a greater role in international security, AP reports.
Japan currently maintains a military only for its own defense, and has previously interpreted the war-renouncing Article 9 of its postwar constitution to mean it cannot engage in what is known as collective self-defense.
If approved, the change could allow Japan to come to the defense of the United States or other countries, even if Japan itself is not under attack. Japan has gradually loosened the restrictions of Article 9 over the years to allow overseas deployments of troops in limited circumstances, but never to allow them to use their weapons to fight for others.
"Collective self-defense probably goes even further than all the other reinterpretations that Article 9 has seen thus far, so it would be a huge step,'' said Chris Winkler, a constitutional expert at the German Institute for Japanese Studies in Tokyo.
Members of the 14-member expert panel have said a deteriorating regional security environment, namely growing threats from China and North Korea, makes Japan's ban on collective self-defense inadequate.
Surveys show public opinion is mixed, and Abe will have to overcome doubts within his ruling coalition to win Cabinet approval of the reinterpretation. Opponents say it would undermine the war-renouncing clause of the constitution.
In a bid to win over doubters, officials in Abe's government have floated proposals in recent weeks that would limit when Japan would exercise collective self-defense. The government will develop a final proposal based on the panel report.
The United States backs Abe's push for a larger military role, as it wants Japan to bear a greater burden of its own defense.