Abe advocates "active" pacifism in Japan's security strategy

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday Japan should take a more active approach to ensuring global peace and stability given the changing security environment, such as the rise of China and North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile development.

Speaking at an inaugural meeting of experts tasked with drawing up Japan's first national security strategy, Abe said his administration "aims to increase Japan's engagement in safeguarding the world's peace and stability in order to pursue an active pacifism based on international cooperation."

"We need to have a more integrated national security policy," Abe said, calling for the government to be "strategic and systematic" in addressing security issues.

A panel of experts in foreign and defense affairs, led by Shinichi Kitaoka, president of the International University of Japan, will discuss an array of security issues before the government formulates its security strategy by the end of the year, around the same time as the Defense Ministry releases new defense program guidelines.

Among other issues, the panel will discuss the future of the U.S.-Japan alliance, a cornerstone of Tokyo's security policy, and implications of exercising the right of collective self-defense for Japan's broader security engagements, according to Kitaoka.

"It is extremely important to show our country's security policy in a more proactive and effective manner both at home and abroad," Kitaoka told journalists after the meeting.

"We need to ask ourselves whether we can maintain peace in the world just because Japan, the world's third-largest economy, looks inward and maintains that we won't possess military strength," he said.

Along with Abe, Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera attended the meeting at the prime minister's office.

Security concerns posed by China and North Korea have prompted Abe, since he took office last December, to order a review of Japan's defense posture to cope with the changing regional security environment.

Abe has also revived another government panel to study whether to enable Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense, or coming to the aid of an ally under armed attack, with its final report due out by year-end. Kitaoka also sits on that panel.

The current interpretation of the pacifist Constitution does not permit Japan to use the right on the grounds that doing so would violate Article 9, which forbids the use of force to settle international disputes.

To coordinate Japan's response to security threats, the government is now seeking to pass a bill to establish a Japanese version of the U.S. National Security Council, and the new national security strategy will be used as the basis.

Under Abe, the Defense Ministry aims to strengthen the ability of the Self-Defense Forces to protect remote islands, namely the Senkaku Islands, a group of uninhabited islets in the East China Sea administered by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan.

"Defense capabilities should reflect a country's will and ability to protect its peace and independence," Abe told Thursday's meeting. "So we need to acquire defense capabilities that will allow the SDF to play the role that is required of them as we review the defense program guidelines."

The purchase last September of three of the five Senkaku Islands from a private Japanese owner raised the hackles of China, which has continued to send patrol ships and planes to areas around the islets.

Even as Abe aims to change Japan's defense posture, his Liberal Democratic Party must win the support of its coalition partner New Komeito party, which has remained cautious about altering the interpretation of the Constitution.

Calling for "careful" discussions about the right of collective self-defense, New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi said the ruling bloc shares the view that they must gain public support first.

"We haven't gained public support yet," Yamaguchi told reporters in Washington after meeting with U.S. government officials. "It will be necessary to have careful and deep discussions about it from various angles."