Japan Claims Limited Military Powers for First Time Since World War II

Japanese Prime Minister: ‘The security situation surrounding Japan is growing more severe’

Shinzo Abe
Shinzo Abe / AP

Japan’s parliament voted on Thursday to grant its military the authority to fight in foreign conflicts for the first time since World War II, a move aimed in part at countering aggressive actions from China, the New York Times reports.

Shinzo Abe, Japan’s conservative prime minister, pushed for the legislation despite public opposition, the Times writes:

Critics, including a majority of Japanese constitutional specialists, say the legislation violates the country’s postwar charter, which renounces war. But the legislation is supported by the United States, Japan’s wartime foe turned ally and protector, which has welcomed a larger role for Tokyo in regional security as a counterweight to a more assertive China.

Mr. Abe has spent considerable political capital pushing the bills through. Voters oppose them by a ratio of roughly two to one, according to numerous surveys, and the government’s support ratings, which were once high, fell to around 40 percent in several polls taken this month.

Mr. Abe has presented the package as an unavoidable response to new threats facing Japan, in particular the growing military power of China. He seized on the murder of two Japanese hostages by the Islamic State militant group in January as an example of why Japan needs to loosen restrictions on its military, suggesting that the military might have rescued them if it had been free to act.

"These laws are absolutely necessary because the security situation surrounding Japan is growing more severe," he said after Thursday’s vote.

China’s Foreign Ministry criticized the security bills and urged Japan to "refrain from jeopardizing China’s sovereignty and security interests or crippling regional peace and stability."