Japan’s Lower House Passes Bills to Give Military Freer Hand to Fight

July 16, 2015

New York Times:

The lower house of Japan’s Parliament passed legislation on Thursday that would give the country’s military limited powers to fight in foreign conflicts for the first time since World War II.

The lawmakers acted despite broad public opposition to the legislation, which has set off Japan’s largest demonstrations since the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear accident four years ago.

Opposition lawmakers walked out of Parliament to protest the package of 11 security-related bills, which was championed by the conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe, and supported by the United States, Japan’s longtime ally and protector. Demonstrators chanted noisily on Thursday outside Parliament, despite a gathering typhoon

The bills represent a break from the strictly defensive stance maintained by Japan in the decades since the war, under which it would fight only if directly attacked. Critics, including a majority of Japanese constitutional specialists, say the legislation violates the country’s postwar charter, which renounces war.

Mr. Abe has spent considerable political capital pushing the bills through. Voters oppose them by a ratio of roughly two to one, according to numerous surveys, and the government’s once-high support ratings fell to around 40 percent in several polls taken this month.

Mr. Abe has presented the package as an unavoidable response to new threats facing Japan, in particular the growing military power of China. He seized on the murder of two Japanese hostages by the Islamic State militant group in January as an example of why Japan needs to loosen restrictions on its military, suggesting that the military might have rescued them had it been free to act.

“These laws are absolutely necessary because the security situation surrounding Japan is growing more severe,” he said after the vote on Thursday.

China condemned passage of the bills, describing them as a potential threat to peace in Asia and invoking the memory of Japan’s wartime aggression.

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