TOKYO – Since Japan’s defeat in World War II, its military has been shackled by restrictions imposed by a victorious U.S. and that, over time, a majority of Japanese adopted as their own. Now, the shackles are being loosened.
Japan’s Cabinet on Tuesday approved a reinterpretation of the country’s pacifist postwar constitution that will allow the military to help defend allies and others “in a close relationship” with Japan under what is known as “collective self-defense.”
Previous governments have said the war-renouncing Article 9 of the constitution limited the use of force to defending Japan.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the shift is needed to protect the lives of the Japanese people in an increasingly severe security environment. Japanese warships would be able to help protect U.S. ships that were defending Japan, he said.
“Peace is not something you expect to be given, but it’s something that we must achieve on our own,” he said in a news conference.
The issue has divided Japan, where many worry about China’s growing military assertiveness but also support the anti-war clause of the constitution and fret about a possible slide toward the militarism that led to World War II.
About 2,000 people protested outside Abe’s office, saying that any change to the constitution should be made through a public referendum, not simply a Cabinet reinterpretation.
The move drew sharp criticism from China, and a cautious reaction from South Korea, which was colonized by Japan from 1910 to 1945.
“Beijing opposes Japan’s act of hyping the China threat,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a daily briefing.
South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Noh Kwang-il said: “The South Korean government views it as a significant revision to the defense and security policy under the postwar peace constitution, and is paying a sharp attention to it.”
In Washington, State Department Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf said the U.S. welcomes the policy.