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A Major Shift in Japan's Defense Policy
Japan's security policy could become more aggressive, and it could become normal for Japanese troops to take part in interventionist military operations overseas
By Wang Peng | NO. 41 OCTOBER 8, 2015

The upper house of the National Diet of Japan--the Japanese equivalent of the U.S. Congress--enacted new security legislation on September 19 that will allow its military, referred to as the Self-Defense Forces, to participate in military operations abroad for the first time since World War II (WWII). The bills, which Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been pushing for since July, also include laws that will ease restrictions on Japan's use of force.

The enactment of this legislation has two possible consequences. The first is a shift in Japan's position on defense. It allows Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense by sending its military into overseas conflicts to defend its allies, even if Japan itself is not directly attacked. One could interpret this to mean that, contrary to its previous position of renunciation of the right to use armed forces, Japan now has no restrictions on its use of force. A second possibility is that Japan's security policy could become more aggressive, and it could become normal for Japanese troops to take part in interventionist military operations overseas.

The enactment of the new security bills could have a profound influence on Japan and the world at large. The legislation is the biggest change to Japan's postwar security policy and removes restrictions imposed on Japan by its pacifist Constitution following the end of WWII. Japan can now operate like other "normal" countries and develop its military forces without restrictions. On August 31, the Japanese Ministry of Defense submitted a 5.09-trillion-yen ($42.25 billion) defense budget, the highest since the end of WWII.

Japan could become a large exporter of arms and return to the international arms market as a defense industry superpower. But most importantly, the legislation could enable Japan's Self-Defense Forces to employ their military might and exert their influence on the international community.

Regardless of the legislation's worldwide implications or possible future outcomes, the Asia-Pacific region will be impacted the most. When looked at in conjunction with the recently revised Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation, it appears Tokyo is becoming a pillar of Washington's "pivot to Asia" policy. Rather than merely providing logistical support and bases for U.S. military operations in the Asia-Pacific, Japan could join forces with the United States when carrying out military operations, potentially rendering the security situation in the Asia-Pacific more complicated and volatile.

The legislation has sparked strong opposition from Japanese citizens. Large-scale protests, something that has been absent from Japanese public life for several decades, took place across the country. According to a survey by the Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun , 3.4 million people participated in activities in opposition to the legislation in Japan.

Countries in the Asia-Pacific have expressed concern about Japan's move. An article published in the South Korean newspaper Korea Economic Daily  on September 20 pointed out that the fact that Japan immediately pushed to send troops overseas following the adoption of the new security legislation was bound to put its Asian neighbors on high alert.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said that Japan's move to strengthen its military and adjust its defense policy runs contrary to the current trend in international relations to emphasize peace, development and cooperation and will raise concerns among the international community that Japan is giving upon the peaceful path it has adhered to since the end of WWII.

This is an edited excerpt of an article published in China Youth Daily on September 25. The author is with the Air Force Engineering University

Copyedited by Jordyn Dahl

Comments to yanwei@bjreview.com

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