Japan's powerful lower house of parliament Thursday approved a bill to
upgrade Japan's Defence Agency to a full ministry so as to bolster the agency's
status within the government.
Currently, Japan's military is strictly constrained by the country's pacifist
constitution which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has vowed to revise. The Defence
Agency is part of the Cabinet Office rather than a separate ministry.
The bill was passed by the house's security committee earlier yesterday and
is to be sent to the other chamber for further debate and a separate vote in
coming weeks. But yesterday's passage by the lower house makes the bill's
enactment almost certain because of the ruling bloc's domination in both houses.
The bill would make the defence forces' overseas peacekeeping activities a
part of its regular duties, in addition to defence and disaster relief at home.
Their overseas relief and humanitarian missions under United Nations' auspices
are currently outside of the defence forces' core activities.
Chinese analysts yesterday expressed concern over the move, saying it would
violate Japan's pacifist post-World War II constitution, which prohibits the use
of force in solving international disputes.
Lu Yaodong, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said
the upgrading would lead to a transformation in the role of Japanese defence
He said the bill would make overseas missions a regular part of the Japanese
armed forces duties, potentially heightening regional tension amid ongoing
attempts to address the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula.
In a bid to boost its international profile, Japan sent non-combat troops to
southern Iraq to help rebuild that country. Japan also approved late last month
a one-year extension of its naval mission in the Indian Ocean to support the
US-led anti-terrorism campaign in Afghanistan.
Both operations were criticized by some in Japan as violating the nation's
constitution, which prohibits the use of force in solving international
"The bill would knock the bottom out of Japan's security policy and trample
on the Article 9 (pacifist) clause of the constitution," said opposition
Communist Party lawmaker Seiken Akamine. "The bill merely aims to send the
defence forces abroad to back US-led war."
The agency is expected to become a ministry early next year.
Also yesterday, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso said Japan has the
technological know-how to produce a nuclear weapon, but has no immediate plans
to do so.
Speaking to a parliamentary committee, he repeated the official government
position that the country's pacifist constitution, which allows for the country
to defend itself, does not forbid possession of an atomic bomb for defence