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[Editorial] Japan’s remilitarization

Tokyo can now wage war on foreign soil

Amid deep concerns in its neighboring countries, Japan has adopted a new interpretation of its war-renouncing constitution to exercise the right to collective self-defense.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration approved Tuesday a document to reinterpret Article 9 of Japan’s so-called pacifist constitution, which bans the use of military force abroad.

Thus far, the Japanese government has interpreted this article as effectively denying Japan the right to collective self-defense, which is enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The right allows a country to use military force, even when it is not under attack, to defend an ally that is being attacked by a third country.

Under the new interpretation adopted by Abe’s cabinet, Article 9 is seen as not denying Japan this right. The Abe administration justified the reinterpretation citing the changes in the global security environment, including the nuclear threat posed by North Korea.

The constitutional reinterpretation carries deep implications for Japan’s neighboring countries, as it signifies a fundamental shift in Japan’s defense policy.

Until now, Japan has followed the policy of maintaining a “defense-only” military posture, which has led it to refrain from building up offensive capabilities.

Japan will now pursue remilitarization as the new constitutional interpretation has opened the door for its Self-Defense Forces to wage war on foreign soil. In fact, Japan has already started to build up offensive capabilities.

The Japanese government has sought to address the concerns of countries in the region by setting out specific conditions under which the SDF can dispatch troops overseas.

The document approved Tuesday presents three such conditions. But they are all abstract, leaving much room for interpretation. For instance, the SDF can use force when “a clear danger exists that threatens the survival of Japan and could fundamentally overthrow the right of the Japanese people to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

The shift in Japan’s defense policy has put the Seoul government on alert as it will change the security environment surrounding the Korean Peninsula.

Seoul is particularly concerned about the possibility of Japan invoking the right to collective self-defense if war breaks out here. In the event of war on the Korean Peninsula, Japan could send troops under the pretext of protecting Japanese people here.

Following the announcement by Abe’s cabinet Tuesday, Korean officials reaffirmed that Japan should seek consent from Seoul if it wished to exercise the right to collective self-defense on the issues related to the Korean Peninsula.

Japan has reportedly assured Seoul that it would not exercise the right to collective self-defense without its consent. Korea has every right to assert its sovereignty and Japan should respect that.

The Korean government’s concerns about Abe’s cabinet’s policy shift are valid because the Japanese leader has retrograde views on history. He has even sought to retract past apologies for Japan’s wartime atrocities in a bid to whitewash a shameful chapter of its history.

Abe’s pursuit of the right to collective self-defense and remilitarization is unnerving to Korea and Japan’s other former colonies as it is seen as part of his effort to revive Japan’s past glory.

Before reinterpreting the constitution, Abe should have made genuine efforts to address the concerns of these countries by facing up to Japan’s history.

Now the Abe administration is expected to begin legislative efforts to lay the legal basis for sending troops abroad. The Seoul government needs to closely monitor how Japan specifies the circumstances under which troops might be dispatched to the Korean Peninsula.