Japan’s Abe pushes security bills through lower house, despite protests

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks at a lower house special committee session on security-related legislation at the parliament in Tokyo July 15, 2015.  REUTERS/Toru Hanai
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks at a lower house special committee session on security-related legislation at the parliament in Tokyo July 15, 2015. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday pushed through legislation in the lower house of parliament that could see troops sent to fight abroad for the first time since World War Two, despite thousands of protesters overnight chanting and holding up placards reading “No War, No Killing”.

A lower house panel approval on Wednesday of the unpopular bills, which would drop a ban on collective self-defence or fighting to defend a friendly country like the United States, sparked a huge demonstration and more are planned.

The protest was reminiscent of those that toppled Abe’s grandfather from the premiership 55 years ago after he rammed a revised U.S.-Japan security pact through parliament.

Crowds of protesters – organisers said 100,000 – gathered near parliament. Many stayed well into the night, chanting and holding up placards reading “Abe, quit”, “No War, No Killing” and “Scrap the War Bills”. Protesters were assembling again on Thursday, although rainy weather could dampen the numbers.

The bills will now go to the upper house, and if no vote is taken after 60 days they will be returned to the lower house, where Abe’s coalition can enact them with a two-thirds majority.

Abe says a bolder security stance, welcomed by ally Washington, is essential to meet new challenges, such as those from a rising China.

“The security situation around Japan is getting tougher,” Abe told reporters after the vote, which was boycotted by the main opposition parties. “These bills are vital to protect the Japanese people’s lives and prevent war.”

The changes expand the scope for Japan’s military to also provide logistics support to friendly countries, relax limits on peace-keeping operations and make it easier to respond to “grey zone” incidents falling short of war.

Opponents say the revisions could entangle Japan in U.S.-led conflicts around the globe and violate pacifist Article Nine of the U.S-drafted, post-war constitution.

“Opposition to the bill is growing louder,” said opposition Democratic Party leader Katsuya Okada just before the vote. “Prime Minister Abe, you should admit you have not obtained the people’s understanding and immediately withdraw the bills.”


China’s Foreign Ministry said the move called into question Japan’s post-war commitment to “the path of peaceful development”, and urged Japan to learn the lessons of history.

Sino-Japanese ties have long been frayed by China’s memories of Japan’s wartime aggression, although relations have thawed since a November leaders’ meeting.

Abe, who returned to office in 2012 pledging to bolster Japan’s defences and reboot the economy, has seen his support slip to around 40 percent on voter doubts about the legislation and other policies, such as a plan to restart nuclear reactors.

A clash with the governor of Okinawa over a U.S. Marines air base will likely flare up in August, when Abe will also unveil a controversial statement marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two.

Some analysts have begun to draw parallels to Abe’s grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, a wartime cabinet minister who was premier from 1957 to 1960 and resigned on July 15, 1960 because of a public furore over the U.S.-Japan security pact.

Other analysts say that although Abe’s ratings will take a hit, he is likely to survive and win re-election in September for another three-year term as leader of his Liberal Democratic Party, given weak opposition inside and outside of the party.

“There is a lot of hubris and arrogance and it will come back to haunt him. He is no longer the Teflon prime minister,” said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University’s Japan campus.

Source : Reuters