Japan is set to adopt a new set of rules for its military partnership with the U.S. that will allow Tokyo to join its ally in global conflicts—a move designed to strengthen the alliance in the face of an expansionist China. The proposed new guidelines drop the provision from the current 1997 rules that specifies that Japanese force can only be used to address “situations in areas surrounding Japan.” Bloomberg explains some of the context:
Faced with a territorial dispute with China in the East China Sea, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pushed through a series of measures to toughen Japan’s defense stance since taking office in 2012. He is seeking to increase the defense budget for a third year after more than a decade of cuts, and in July his cabinet reinterpreted the pacifist constitution to allow Japan to defend other countries [under the legal rubric of “collective self defense”].“Since 1997, when the guidelines were last revised, the world has changed, the region has changed and Japan has changed,” said Daniel Russel, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. “We face serious ongoing threats.”Japan and the U.S. said in October 2013 they aimed to complete a review of the defense guidelines by the end of this year, in what Secretary of State John Kerry said would be a road map for the relationship over the next 15 to 20 years. It’s not clear whether the deadline will be met, with Japan still drafting the legislation needed to implement the cabinet’s reinterpretation of the constitution, which is also to be reflected in the new guidelines.
Abe has insisted that Japan won’t participate into large foreign conflicts:
The removal of geographical restrictions on the alliance comes after Abe’s assurances that Japan’s forces will never take part in a conflict comparable to the Gulf War. Japan has pledged aid in response to Islamic State’s capture of areas in Iraq and Syria, while saying it will not take part in bombing campaigns in the Middle East.
Japan’s top geopolitical goal right now is countering Beijing. The best tool that Abe has has for achieving that goal is his country’s relationship with the U.S., and he’s using it.