by Isabel Reynolds
Air servicemen of the Japan Self-Defense Force walk past a F-15J/DJ fighter aircraft on a runway prior to a review ceremony at the Japan Air Self-Defense Force's Hyakuri air base in Omitama, Ibaraki prefecture on Oct. 26, 2014. Photographer: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images
(Bloomberg) -- A majority of Japanese oppose Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan to pass legislation to expand the military’s role in the current parliamentary session, an opinion poll indicated.
Fifty-one percent of respondents to a Nikkei newspaper survey released Monday said the bills shouldn’t be passed in the session due to end in June, while 31 percent said they should.
The poll appears to signal that many voters are unwilling to see a rapid broadening of the remit of the country’s Self Defense Forces, even amid a territorial dispute with an increasingly assertive China. While Abe’s proposed legal changes and reinterpretation of the 68-year-old pacifist constitution have been welcomed by the U.S., neighboring China and South Korea are wary of any return to militarization.
“The international security situation is constantly changing, with the spread of weapons of mass destruction and the threat of terrorism,” Abe told graduating students at the National Defense Academy on Sunday, according to Kyodo News. “In order to make our pledge against war a reality, we need to learn from our predecessors, make decisions and take action.”
Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party agreed a basic outline of legislative changes with its Buddhist-backed coalition partner Komeito last week. The government plans to draft bills next month and pass them in the current session of parliament, which may necessitate extending it beyond the current cut-off point of June 24.
The outline includes a call for changes to laws on “gray zone” situations that do not amount to an attack on Japan; on providing support to foreign militaries overseas; the use of weapons in peace-keeping operations overseas; and the use of force to defend other countries under certain circumstances.
Gender Divide“Since the war, our country has in principle not used force overseas,” Katsuya Okada, the leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, said of the legislation on his blog on Saturday. “The content of Prime Minister Abe’s proactive pacifism policy means a great change to that thinking.”
Okada also called for a party leaders’ debate to discuss the proposals.
The Nikkei poll found a marked difference in opinion between male and female respondents. While 45 percent of men supported the passage of the laws in the current session, only 20 percent of women agreed. The paper polled 1,043 people by phone March 20-22.
Support for Abe’s cabinet rose one percentage point to 51 percent from a similar poll in February.