After making it through committee on Wednesday, a set of bills that codify Shinzo Abe’s reinterpretation of Japan’s pacifist post-war constitution passed in the lower house of the Diet, Japan’s parliament. Under the new interpretation, the country can take military action for purposes of “collective self-defense”, which means, essentially, on behalf of allies (as long as the threat to or attack on the ally is also construed as also threatening Japan). The issue has become wildly contentious in domestic politics, and the vote goes against a rising tide of public opinion in favor of the pacifist status quo. Defense News reports:
The bills were passed in a near half-empty chamber because the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, the Japan Innovation Party, the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party all staged a walkout in protest […]
The legislation has met strong resistance from not only opposition parties, but was greeted by massive protests outside the Diet building on Wednesday, with estimates of the crowds numbering 60,000-100,000 demonstrators. Despite more than 100 hours of debate in the Diet, it is widely recognized here that the legislation is poorly understood and has at very best lukewarm support by the Japanese public, which is worried that the SDF may find itself embroiled in conflicts that have no direct bearing on Japan’s security.
One of Abe’s strongest arguments for remilitarization is that Japan must be able to respond to China’s rise, which, he rightly asserts, threatens to change the balance of power in East Asia in ways that won’t be in line with the interests of Tokyo or its neighbors. Apparently China agrees with this analysis, because, predictably, it’s already lashing out against the Diet’s vote in its underhanded and understated way. Reuters:
Chinese defense chief Chang Wanquan told Shotaro Yachi, who is a close ally of Abe’s, that the passing of the bill was an “unprecedented move”, state news agency Xinhua said, after the pair met in Beijing.
“This move will have a complicated influence on regional security and strategic stability,” the news agency said, paraphrasing Chang.
He “urged the Japanese to learn from history, respect major security concerns of its neighbors and not to do harm to regional peace and stability”, Xinhua added.
Now the bills go to the upper house. Things could get slightly trickier now, since unlike in the lower house, Abe’s LDP doesn’t hold a majority there. It rules in coalition with another party, Komeito. But, it bodes very well for the bills’ passage that Komeito has voted along with the LDP so far.
If things go according to Abe’s preferred plan, the next step will be the last one before Japan becomes pretty much a “normal country,” one that can send its troops where the government feels they are needed to protect and promote the national interest, whether that’s the Senkaku Islands, the South China Sea, the Middle East, or anywhere else.