Tokyo pushes security legislation

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Tokyo pushes security legislation

Seoul urged Tokyo to adhere to the spirit of its postwar pacifist constitution after the Japanese Diet’s lower house pushed through a controversial set of security legislations on Thursday enabling the country to exercise its right to collective self-defense.

Japan’s House of Representatives approved of a package of 11 security bills that would allow its Self-Defense Forces to assist its allies abroad, even if there is no direct threat to Japan, for the first time since the end of World War II.

The lower house passed the legislation enabling Japan’s right to exercise collective self-defense, which enables the country’s right to wage war, as disgruntled opposition lawmakers boycotted the vote.

On Wednesday, the group of bills was rammed through a lower house special committee after 116 hours of deliberation and amid fierce domestic protests that led tens of thousands of Japanese citizens to take to the streets in Tokyo.

The move to revise national security laws has been met by strong opposition from the Japanese people, illustrated by a Mainichi Shimbun poll conducted on July 4 and 5, which showed that 58 percent of respondents were opposed to the defense bills. Similar numbers were also reflected in other media polls.

The ruling coalition of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior partner, the Komeito Party, holds over two-thirds of the seats in the lower house.

A Cabinet council submitted the security legislations on May 11, and a review of the bills began later that month in the Diet.

On July 1, 2014, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet approved an unconventional, flexible interpretation of its decades-old pacifist constitution to enable Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, which would allow its Self-Defense Forces to come to the aid of a close foreign ally.

Article 9 of the 1947 constitution stipulates that “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.”

Enabling Japan’s right to exercise collective self-defense has been a longtime goal of Abe, even since his first run as prime minister. However, he faced difficulties in trying to amend the Japanese constitution because of stringent procedures.

Japan’s shift away from its pacifist post-World War II constitution has been watched closely by Seoul and other neighboring countries that were victims of its colonial rule.

The move comes as many right-wing politicians have increased their efforts in recent years to whitewash and seemingly glorify Japan’s wartime aggressions.

“The Korean government’s position is that Japan’s discussions on its defense policy needs to happen adhering to the spirit of its peaceful constitution and with transparency contributing to the peace and security of the region,” a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said Thursday in Seoul.

“Our firm and consistent position is that [Japan cannot act] without our request or approval on situations related to security on the Korean Peninsula or [in situations] that may impact our national interest.”

“The Japanese upper house will continue deliberations,” he continued, “so we will closely [monitor that] and continue to negotiate closely [with the Japanese government].”

The bills are pending approval in Japan’s upper house, the House of Councillors.

Should the security legislation fail to gain approval in the upper house, it will automatically be sent back in 60 days to the lower house, which will wield the final vote.

On Wednesday, media reported that more than 60,000 protesters had taken to the streets in Tokyo to rally against the defense law.

In a survey by the Asahi Shimbun carried out at the end of June among legal scholars, 119 of 122 respondents said the legislation was either unconstitutional or that there was a possibility it could be unconstitutional.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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