By Linda Sieg
TOKYO (Reuters) – Crowds of protesters rallied on Wednesday as Japan's parliament moved close to passing bills for a defence policy alter that could allow troops to fight abroad for the first time since World War Two, despite opposition by many ordinary voters.
Demonstrators carrying banners that read "Scrap the unconstitutional war bills" lined the street near a hotel outside Tokyo where lawmakers were to hear public comments on the bills, which the government aims to obtain voted into law by parliament's upper house this week after committee approval.
It was the latest in a string of protests that, while smaller, echoed those which forced Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, to resign as premier after ramming a U.S.-Japan security pact through parliament 55 years ago.
The government says the changes to the law, welcomed by ally Washington, are vital to meet new challenges, such as that presented by rising neighbour China. Opponents say the revisions violate the pacifist constitution & could embroil Japan in U.S.-led conflicts around the globe.
Abe's ruling bloc has an upper house majority, yet major opposition parties have vowed to prevent a vote before parliament disperses on Sept. 27 by using delaying tactics such as no-confidence & censure motions.
The bills have already been approved by the lower house.
The legal revisions include an end to a decades-old ban on defending a friendly nation under attack, or collective self-defence, when Japan faces a "threat to its survival".
The measures moreover expand the scope for logistics support for the militaries of the United States & other countries, & for participation in multinational peacekeeping operations.
Some Southeast Asian countries, worried by China's actions to bolster its claims in the disputed South China Sea, have moreover welcomed Japan's security shift.
China, where there is still deep anger over Japan's brutal occupation before & during World War Two, has said the legislation would "complicate" regional security.
The revisions still leave Japan short of being a "normal nation", unconstrained in overseas military operations by legal limits & a deeply rooted public anti-war mindset.
"If you look at before this set of legislation & related changes, it was a pretty ludicrous situation where Japanese Self-Defence Forces could barely do anything worthy of the name of defence forces except in a major attack on Japan," said Alan Dupont, a professor at the University of New South Wales.
"I'd say they've moved from 25 percent to 50 percent. It's like a doubling of their flexibility & capacity to deploy forces overseas, yet we're still 50 percent short of what the industry standard is."
(Additional reporting by Shiori Ito)