Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is moving ahead this week with legislation that would boost the military's international role, a significant shift of the country's pacifist policies.
His ruling coalition reached formal agreement Monday on a package of bills that would loosen restrictions imposed on the military by the U.S. occupation after World War II. They would allow Japan to contribute more to the U.S.-Japan alliance, as the countries agreed to in revised security guidelines signed last month.
The changes would remove geographic restrictions on where the military can operate, and under certain conditions allow it to defend allies for the first time since World War II. They would also make it easier for Japan to provide logistical support for other militaries and to participate in international peacekeeping operations.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet adopted a resolution last July reinterpreting the pacifist constitution to drop a self-imposed ban on exercising the right of collective self-defense, or militarily aiding a friendly country under attack.
"This marks a turning point in which Japan moves away from traditional isolationism, where Japan doesn't contribute too much to international security, to a more cooperative, proactive internationalism," security analyst Narushige Michishita of the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo told the Associated Press.
He said the legislation would open the way for Japan to work more closely with not only the United States, but also others in Asia such as Australia, India and Southeast Asian partners, as they cope with China's military rise.
The proposals are expected to be approved by the Cabinet later this week for submission to parliament. The legislation is considered likely to pass this summer, given the comfortable majority held by Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, Komeito.
Japanese voters are divided about the changes, which even supporters say has stretched the post-war constitution's pacifist Article 9 to the limit. Abe has made clear he eventually wants to revise Article 9 formally.
A survey by the Yomiuri newspaper published on Monday showed 46 percent backed the changes compared with 41 percent who were opposed. But 48 percent oppose enacting the bills in the current session of parliament, versus 34 percent in favor.