Police remove a steel fence as protesters push them outside the Japanese prime minister's office in Tokyo during a demonstration July 1. / AP
BEIJING â?? In a major security shift, Japan's Cabinet approved a change Tuesday that allows the country's long-restricted military to come to the aid of an ally under attack, even when Japan or its forces are not directly threatened.
The move, expected for several weeks, drew swift opposition from China, which is engaged in a maritime dispute with Tokyo and said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is building up Japan's military capabilities counter to its pacifist constitution, drawn up after World War II.
Abe's Cabinet approved a reinterpretation of the constitution's Article 9, which permits military force only to resolve conflicts in cases of self-defense. The new policy will allow "collective self-defense." That would allow Japan's Self-Defense Forces to defend allies under attack.
Abe said at a news conference Tuesday that Japan remains a peace-loving, defense-oriented nation, that will not launch a war against other countries and will not join wars waged by other countries. But in view of the changing security environment, Japan must revise its defense posture to protect Japanese lives, he said.
"Japan will not resort to the use of force if the objective of the action is nothing more than the defense of a foreign country," Abe said. "If we are fully prepared, an attempt to wage war against Japan will be thwarted. This is called deterrence."
Abe offered an example of how Japan's revised rules of engagement could work. If U.S. vessels rescuing Japanese nationals from a conflict zone were attacked, Japan's military could provide protection to those vessels, he said.
Japanese military personnel do not engage in combat overseas, although small numbers have participated in United Nations peacekeeping operations.
The change is welcome news to the United States, which maintains troops in Japan.
Abe's reassurances carried little weight in China, which suffered greatly from a Japanese invasion and occupation in the 1930s and 1940s. The two nations have strained relations over a territorial dispute over a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.
"We oppose Japan's fabrication of the so-called China threat so as to serve its domestic political purposes," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Tuesday.
"People cannot but question whether Japan will change the peaceful development path it has long stuck to since the end of World War II," he said, according to Xinhua, the state news agency.
In South Korea, which was colonized by Japan from 1910 to 1945, Foreign Ministry spokesman Noh Kwang Il said, "The South Korean government views it as a significant revision to the defense and security policy under the postwar peace constitution and is paying a sharp attention to it."
Contributing: Associated Press
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