INTERVIEW-Japan coalition party wary of security change despite U.S. support

by Reuters
Friday, 25 April 2014 13:03 GMT

By Kiyoshi Takenaka and Nobuhiro Kubo

TOKYO, April 25 (Reuters) - The leader of a small party in Japan's coalition said on Friday he did not agree with defence policy changes that would allow Japanese forces to fight overseas to help allies despite U.S. support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's review of the stance.

Abe is aiming to lift Japan's ban on collective self-defence, which means helping an ally under attack, to bolster security ties with the United States as China expands its military and North Korea develops its nuclear capabilities.

The United States welcomed and supported Japan's re-assessment of its self-imposed ban on going to the help of allies, the two countries said in a statement a day after Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama held talks in Tokyo on Thursday.

But Natsuo Yamaguchi, head of the New Komeito party, told Reuters in an interview that he wanted to see the prohibition of Japanese forces going to the help of allies maintained.

"For many years, the Cabinet Legislation Bureau ... has been taking the view that the constitution prohibits exercising the right of collective self-defence," Yamaguchi said.

"Komeito shares that view ... Changing this view would be a drastic change. In a nutshell, that would lead to using force overseas," he said.

The Cabinet Legislation Bureau, part of the Japanese government, is the nation's constitutional watchdog.

For decades, Japan has taken the position that while it has the right of collective self-defence, actually exercising the right exceeds what is allowed by the U.S.-drafted, pacifist constitution adopted after World War Two.

Yamaguchi said the show of support from the United States for Abe's review of the issue did not necessarily mean the United States was trying to steer Japan's domestic debate.

"What's important is Japan's own stance on the matter."

The hawkish Abe has often spoken of "escaping the post-war regime", and some of Japan's neighbours, in particular China, are wary of his moves to revise the pacifist constitution.

The lifting of the ban would be a major turning point for Japan's security policy. Since its World War Two defeat in 1945, Japan's military has not engaged in any combat.

Proponents of the change say it would free up the Japanese military to work more closely with the armed forces of the United States and other allies. Critics say it would make Japan more likely to get sucked in overseas wars.

Opinion polls show a majority of voters oppose lifting the ban.

Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) enjoys a clear majority in the lower house of parliament, but it needs the New Komeito's seats to maintain a majority in the upper chamber, which can block bills.

Yamaguchi did not say he would pull his party out of the coalition over the defence issue but said the Japanese public did not want to see confrontation between his party and the LDP. (Editing by Robert Birsel)

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