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Japanese wary of broader military role

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's efforts to allow Japan to defend its allies are meeting opposition from a war-wary public concerned that broadening the military's role could drag the nation into a conflict after almost 70 years of peace.

With the cabinet agreeing to reinterpret the constitution, Abe's government, which has a majority in both houses, plans to submit bills in the autumn specifying changes to the role of the Self-Defense Forces. Surveys show the public is increasingly concerned, raising the risk of slow progress through the Diet as lawmakers waver.

Public opposition is high despite China's sparring with Japan over territory, beefing up its military presence and calling Abe a troublemaker. His move to reinterpret the pacifist Article 9 of the postwar constitution is seen as potentially leading to major changes to the defense forces.

"A lot of Japanese people think it's Article 9 that has brought them peace," said Andrew Horvat, a visiting professor at Josai International University in Chiba. "People identify with this and it's difficult to suddenly accept the idea that peace is purchased at a price -- and that price is vigilance and vigilance requires armed forces."

Two media surveys last weekend found half or more of respondents opposed collective self-defense. A man set himself on fire in the Shinjuku shopping area in Tokyo Sunday after making a speech opposing the change.

-- Bloomberg News

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