New Komeito cautions about Japan's use of collective self-defense

New Komeito party leader Natsuo Yamaguchi said Thursday it will be difficult to gain public support for lifting Japan's self-imposed ban on collective self-defense, an apparent expression of caution against the prime minister's initiative to make such action possible.

Yamaguchi said it is unlikely that the ruling bloc of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito will reach an agreement on the issue by the end of the year.

"It takes both perseverance and the ability to explain (to the public) on the part of politicians and it will not be easy to gain public understanding," Yamaguchi said in an interview with Kyodo News.

"Opinion polls show the public is cautious" about Japan exercising the right to collective self-defense, or defending an ally under armed attack, Yamaguchi added.

The comments by the leader of the New Komeito whose support is vital for the LDP call into question an early decision on whether Japan should exercise the right, and may force the LDP to rethink its schedule for preparing relevant legislation.

Some within the LDP are seeking to reach an agreement with the New Komeito to create a law specifying the basic principles of Japan's comprehensive use of collective self-defense. But Yamaguchi sounded negative, saying that "it will take more time" to get public support.

Yamaguchi also said the issue of collective self-defense is not among priority policy areas for the coalition.

"The top priority for the Japanese people is to revive the economy and ensure sustainability in social security," he said. "If we inject our energy into other issues, then we won't be able to live up to their expectations."

A government panel on security issues, created at the initiative of Abe, is expected to compile a report by the end of the year proposing that Japan embrace the right in view of China's maritime assertiveness and North Korea's nuclear and missile development programs.

But Yamaguchi questioned the Abe-led initiative to alter the interpretation of the U.S.-drafted pacifist Constitution, rather than to amend the Constitution, to allow Japan to engage in collective self-dense.

"I wonder if we are able to make an explanation in a way that is coherent and systematic," he said.

"This is a coalition government, so (the public) expects us to use executive power with the backing of the public and the ruling parties. I don't think the government will unilaterally change (the interpretation)," he added.

Yamaguchi said the LDP and the New Komeito "did not discuss" the issue of collective self-defense when they agreed to form a coalition last December.

Still it would go against the will of Japanese voters to leave the coalition just because of disagreement over that issue, Yamaguchi added.

Kyodo News polls conducted over the weekend showed 47 percent of respondents said they do not think it necessary for Japan to exercise the right, while 20 percent expressed support for changing the interpretation.