Key opposition parties criticize Abe's push for defense policy change

Key opposition parties on Thursday criticized Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's drive to seek a change in Japan's defense policy by lifting a long-standing ban on engaging in collective self-defense.

Banri Kaieda, the leader of the largest opposition Democratic Party of Japan, said Abe's attempt could cause a major shift in "Japan's security policy that is based on pacifism."

At a news conference earlier in the day, Abe said Japan will consider limited use of collective self-defense, or coming to the aid of an ally under armed attack. The prime minister was speaking after receiving a report from a panel of security experts urging his government to lift Japan's self-imposed ban on engaging in collective self-defense.

The panel suggested reinterpreting the pacifist Constitution to respond to a changing security landscape due to China and North Korea.

"There is no guarantee for limited use (of forces). There is even a possibility of stretching the interpretation," Kaieda said at a news conference.

Other opposition parties echoed Kaieda's concerns, with some voicing fierce opposition to the constitutional reinterpretation.

"We know that discussions are conducted with a premise from the beginning that limited exercise should be allowed. We can't accept it," Seiji Mataichi, secretary general of the Social Democratic Party, told reporters.

Japanese Communist Party leader Kazuo Shii said his party is opposed to Abe's move that could return Japan to "militarism" and cause it to become "a country that engages in war overseas."

Kenji Eda, the head of the Yuinotoh party, urged Abe to ensure the voices of the people are sufficiently reflected in such an important government policy shift.

"We shouldn't look for a quick conclusion," he said.

For decades, Tokyo has said the exercise of the right would go beyond "the minimum" allowed under war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution for Japan to defend itself. But the panel, handpicked by Abe, urged the government to tweak what it calls an "inappropriate" interpretation to say collective self-defense falls under the minimum level of defense.

The envisaged removal of the ban is part of Japan's much broader reworking of the security framework amid threats from an assertive China and North Korea's missile and nuclear development programs. Abe has pledged to enable Japan to make more contributions to global peace, but it could unnerve Asian neighbors such as China.

The panel said there should be a set of conditions so the use of the right will be kept in check.