Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday that Japan must consider what role it should play in global affairs to keep pace with the changing security environment, as he expressed his eagerness to advance the national debate on lifting a self-imposed ban on collective self-defense.
"We will consider and pursue where Japan should stand in global affairs in the 21st century," Abe told a gathering of senior Defense Ministry officials and Self-Defense Forces personnel at the ministry. "Japan needs to face reality and rebuild our security framework."
Security concerns posed by China and North Korea have prompted Abe to make a review of Japan's defense posture to cope with the changing regional security environment since he took office last December.
Abe has revived a government panel to discuss whether to enable Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense, or coming to the aid of an ally under armed attack. The current interpretation of the pacifist Constitution does not permit Japan to use the right on the grounds that doing so would exceed the minimum necessary to defend itself under the Constitution.
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 to draw up a national security strategy as the basis for the country's security policy.
A panel of experts in defense and foreign policy gathered at the prime minister's office for the first time to discuss the security policy with Abe and other Cabinet ministers.
At the outset of the meeting, Abe said Japan will pursue international cooperation based on a more "active" pacifist stance, and increase its engagement in global efforts to ensure peace and stability by creating a "strategic and systematic" security policy.
"Defense capabilities should reflect a country's will and ability to protect its peace and independence...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," Abe told the panel members.
The panel is expected to make its proposals to the government by the end of the year when the Defense Ministry is scheduled to compile its defense program guidelines, a pointer to the county's long-term defense policy.
Even as Abe aims to bolster Japan's defense capabilities, 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."