Defense chief rules out use of force in far-off land

Japan's defense minister sought Friday to dispel concern over the possible use of force in a far-off land by the country's Self-Defense Forces in the event that Japan lifts a self-imposed ban on collective self-defense, saying debate on the issue does not have such a scenario in mind.

The remarks by Itsunori Onodera come as the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has begun exploring the possibility of lifting the country's self-imposed ban on the use of force overseas by changing its interpretation of the pacifist Constitution.

The defense chief told a news conference that the debate over whether the current interpretation should be changed to enable Japan to come to the aid of an ally under armed attack "doesn't have the opposite end of the globe in mind."

Onodera was refuting recent remarks by Assistant Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobushige Takamizawa, who suggested the possibility that the SDF could be sent to faraway places.

"We can't simply say (what goes on) in the opposite end of the globe has nothing to do with Japan," Takamizawa, a former senior Defense Ministry official, said at a policy panel of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Thursday, adding the SDF would not be unequivocally barred from being sent to far-off places.

Onodera said the view that Japan would go to the other end of the globe and conduct war is far removed from reality, yet noted such a view has "taken on a life of its own and fanned concerns among the public and in neighboring countries."

The defense chief said the debate about whether Japan should be able to exercise the right to collective self-defense has emerged from a "changing environment" surrounding Japan, including North Korea.

Successive Japanese governments have held that the country has the right to collective self-defense but cannot exercise it because of limits imposed by the war-renouncing Constitution.

Earlier this week, an experts' panel on security matters headed by Shunji Yanai, a former ambassador to the United States, resumed discussions after a seven-month hiatus to lay the groundwork for a review of the government's current interpretation of the Constitution.