Japan should aim to create a multilateral security alliance in Asia similar to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to counterbalance China's military buildup, a senior ruling party lawmaker said Thursday.
Shigeru Ishiba, secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, also said in a speech to fellow lawmakers that Japan should remove its self-imposed ban on the right to collective self-defense, saying he is on the same page as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe regarding that "long-cherished wish."
"It will become necessary for us to have an Asian version of NATO," Ishiba said. "We will likely see a continued rise in China's defense budget, and U.S. influence waning. So we need a balance here in the region with China."
The LDP's No. 2 man unveiled a vision to create a network in Asia of security alliances at a time when China's growing aerial and maritime assertiveness is keeping Japan and other Asian countries on alert.
Currently, Japan and some Asian countries such as the Philippines have separate bilateral alliances with the United States, which has emphasized its "pivot" to Asia despite budgetary constraints.
Earlier in the day, Ishiba discussed with Abe steps toward lifting the ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense after gaining support from the New Komeito party, the LDP's ruling coalition partner.
Ishiba said if Japan fails to lift the ban now "it won't be possible for quite a while," but New Komeito is more cautious about expanding Japan's security role in the region.
Removing the ban would allow Japan to defend allies under armed attack even when Japan has not been attacked. But the issue remains divisive at home, given it would mark a major change in the postwar security framework under the war-renouncing Constitution.
Abe is aiming to change the current interpretation carried over from past governments that Japan has the right to collective self-defense but cannot exercise it due to the limitations of Article 9, which forbids the use of force to settle international disputes and only allows the minimum for self-defense.