Japan role in collective defense should follow "clear requests": panel

A government panel on security policy will propose in its final report that Japan should exercise the right to collective self-defense when it receives "clear requests" from allies under armed attack, a key member of the panel has said in a recent interview.

The Japanese government would also need to secure approval from the Diet and notify countries concerned such as South Korea of Tokyo's plan to exercise the right, said the panel's acting chairman Shinichi Kitaoka, president of the International University of Japan.

Kitaoka's remarks suggest the panel launched by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has watered down its original plan to call for Japan to exercise of the right to collective self-defense with or without requests from its allies. The panel's final report is scheduled to be released in April.

"When exercising the right to collective self-defense, we need to have clear requests from countries that have close ties (with Japan), or it cannot be tolerated," Kitaoka said. "As Japan upholds pacifism, the use of collective self-defense must be restrained."

He referred to past instances in which the United States and the former Soviet Union took advantage of collective self-defense during the Cold War.

Japan maintains it has the right to collective self-defense but cannot exercise it due to the pacifist Constitution that forbids the use of force to settle international disputes. Under international law, a country can exercise the right when there are no other means, but the use of the right should be kept at a minimum.

Abe has said he will decide whether to lift Japan's self-imposed ban on exercising the right by reinterpreting the Constitution after the panel releases the report, while arguing it would be "detrimental" to the bilateral alliance if Japan cannot exercise the right to help the United States.

But the New Komeito party, the junior coalition partner of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, remains cautious about changing the constitutional interpretation and opinion polls show the public is still divided on the issue.

The prime minister's push to change the constitutional interpretation comes at a sensitive time, following Abe's visit in December to the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine, which further aggravated Japan's ties with China and South Korea. The shrine honors convicted war criminals along with the war dead.

The panel will also likely call for an expansion in the scope of the Self-Defense Forces' operations to protect Japanese territory, amid heightened tensions over the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea that are claimed by China, which calls them Diaoyu.