The change, the most dramatic shift in policy since Japan set up
its post-war armed forces 60 years ago, will widen Japan's military
options by ending the ban on exercising "collective self-defense",
or aiding a friendly country under attack.
Abe's cabinet adopted a resolution outlining the shift, which also
relaxes limits on activities in U.N.-led peace-keeping operations
and "grey zone" incidents short of full-scale war, Defence Minister
Itsunori Onodera told reporters. Long constrained by the post-war
constitution, Japan's armed forces will become more aligned with the
militaries of other advanced nations , in terms of its options, but
the government will be wary of putting boots on the ground in
multilateral operations such as the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Abe repeated that stance on Tuesday, while stressing Japan had to
respond to an increasingly tough security environment.
"There is no change in the general principle that we cannot send
troops overseas," Abe told a televised news conference, flanked by a
poster showing Japanese mothers and infants fleeing a theoretical
combat zone on a U.S. vessel under attack.
The new policy has angered an increasingly assertive China, whose
ties with Japan have frayed due to a maritime row, mistrust and the
legacy of Japan's past military aggression. "China opposes the
Japanese fabricating the China threat to promote its domestic
political agenda," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told
a news conference in Beijing.
"We demand that Japan respect the reasonable security concerns of
its Asian neighbors and prudently handle the relevant matter."
South Korea, like Japan allied with the United States, but still
aggrieved about Tokyo's 20th century colonization of the Korean
peninsula, said it would not accept any change in policy affecting
its security unless it gave its agreement.
Abe's advisers have said Tokyo should take no action involving a
friendly country without that country's consent.
The shift, however, will be welcomed by Washington, which has long
urged Tokyo to become a more equal alliance partner, and by
Southeast Asia nations that also have rows with China
Conservatives say the constitution's war-renouncing Article 9 has
limited Japan's ability to defend itself and that a changing
regional power balance, including a rising China, means policies
must be more flexible.
"Conservative governments have pushed the envelope hard and often to
get the public to agree to a more elastic interpretation of article
9. Abe is taking a bigger leap and getting away with it, thanks to
the Chinese," said Columbia University political science professor
Abe, who took office in 2012 promising to revive Japan's economy and
bolster its security posture, has pushed for the change - which
revises a longstanding government interpretation of the charter -
despite wariness among ordinary Japanese.
Some voters worry about entanglement in foreign wars and others are
angry at what they see as a gutting of Article 9 by ignoring formal
amendment procedures. The charter has never been revised since it
was adopted after Japan's 1945 defeat.
On Sunday, a man set himself on fire near a busy Tokyo intersection
- a rare form of protest in Japan - after speaking out against Abe's
re-interpretation of Article 9.
[to top of second column]
While Abe spoke, thousands of protesters, including pensioners,
housewives and employees just leaving work, gathered near the
premier's office carrying banners and shouting, "Don't destroy
Article 9", "We're against war" and "No more Abe".
"After this bill is enacted, Japanese soldiers could be sent abroad
to fight foreign wars - we don't want that," said Yoshiharu
Uchinuma, 62, an artist and farmer, wearing a helmet saying "9 No
"Even if Japan doesn't go to war abroad anytime soon, I don't want
my children to go war even in 10 or 20 years," said teacher Aska
Miyanaga, 37, standing with her son and daughter.
Legal revisions to implement the change must be approved by
parliament and restrictions could be imposed in the process.
Since its 1945 defeat, Japan's military has not engaged in combat.
Past governments have stretched the constitution's limits to develop
a military now on par with that of France and to permit non-combat
missions abroad, but its armed forces remain far more constrained
legally than those of other nations.
China has already argued that Japan is raising regional tensions and
seeks to back its case by pointing to Abe's efforts to cast Tokyo's
wartime past with a less apologetic tone.
"It makes it easier for competitors to paint Japan as a wolf in
sheep's clothing," said Richard Samuels, director of the Center for
International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
But he added: "Just because Japan is strong does not mean that it
will be aggressive."
According to the cabinet resolution, Japan could exercise force to
the minimum degree necessary in cases where a country with which it
has close ties is attacked and the following conditions are met:
there is a threat to the existence of the Japanese state, there is a
clear danger that the people's right to life, liberty and the
pursuit of happiness could be subverted, and there is no appropriate
Precisely how the change might work in practice remains unclear,
although it is likely to ease the path to joint military exercises
with countries other than the United States. New Komeito, the junior
partner in Abe's governing coalition, says the scope of revision is
(Additional reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo, Antoni Slodkowski, Elaine
Lies and Minami Funakoshi; Editing by Mark Bendeich, Dean Yates and
Richard Pullin and Michael Perry)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.