Cabinet hoping for public support for Abe's defense policy reform

Ministers in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet expressed their intention Friday to seek public support for his controversial defense policy reform that would include reinterpreting Japan's pacifist Constitution.

A day after Abe announced his intention to lift the nation's self-imposed ban on the right to collective self-defense, or coming to the defense of an ally under armed attack, Cabinet members endorsed his position, while underscoring that priority must be placed on explaining the issue to the public.

"Without public understanding, (the policy) would not function effectively even as we change our interpretation of the Constitution," Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki told a press conference.

Japan's collective defense right, supported by international law, has been banned under the government's interpretation of the war-renouncing Constitution, which only allows Japan to use the minimum amount of force to defend itself.

"It is important to convince people" of the intentions behind the planned policy shift, Tanigaki also said, adding that the issue must be sufficiently discussed at the Diet.

The comment came as the New Komeito party, junior coalition partner of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, has shown reluctance to agree to the potential revision to the government's constitutional interpretation.

"We will discuss point by point the broad issues," Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Akihiro Ota said at a separate news conference. Ota is a Cabinet member from New Komeito.

The ruling parties will accelerate from next week their discussions on the right to collective self-defense after Abe received a proposal Thursday from a panel of experts to lift the ban. Opposition parties, meanwhile, urged the LDP to accept their call for intensive deliberations in parliament on the issue.

Natsuo Yamaguchi, head of New Komeito, told a meeting of the party, "It is important to carry out thorough discussions," saying the government should not make any decision on the matter before the ruling parties' talks reach a conclusion.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters, "We will consider our response to help the Self-Defense Forces carry out their missions in an increasingly harsher security environment."

Onodera was apparently referring to tensions surrounding East Asia, where Japan feels threatened by China's increasing assertiveness and North Korea's nuclear development.

Finance Minister Taro Aso suggested the need for a fresh interpretation of the Constitution.

"It is like putting the cart before the horse if we cannot protect the safety of Japanese people because we have to protect the Constitution," Aso told a press conference.

The United States on Thursday welcomed Abe's announcement that his government will consider lifting the ban on collective defense, while China and South Korea, both victims of Japan's past militarism, expressed alarm.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Japan will seek understanding from its skeptical neighbors of the defense policy overhaul that Abe says is necessary for Japan to make more contributions to international peace and security.

"All neighboring countries, excepting China and South Korea, showed their understanding," the top government spokesman told reporters, apparently referring to the support Tokyo has won from other countries such as members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.