More Assertive Japan Before Abe's US Visit

25 March, 2015

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is making plans for a state visit to the United States. Mr. Abe will travel to Washington next month for talks with President Barack Obama. The two leaders are expected to discuss a number of issues, including the security alliance between their countries.

Shinzo Abe was re-elected as prime minister of Japan in 2012. Since then, Mr. Abe has shown a willingness to create a more aggressive security policy for his country. He wants Japan to be a more active partner in its security relations with the United States. He also wants more Japanese involvement in efforts to settle conflicts in Asia and the Pacific.

One reason for a more active policy has been Japan's recent decision to reconsider part of its constitution, known as Article 9. The article bars the country from going to war or having a military.

More Assertive Japan Before Abe's US Visit
In this file photo, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reviews members of Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF) during the Self-Defense Forces Day at Asaka Base, Oct. 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

Tetsuo Kotani works for the Japan Institute of International Affairs. He says the country took a big step when it reinterpreted Article 9, looking at the measure in a different way.

"Last year, the Japanese government made a cabinet decision to reinterpret Article 9 so that Japan can exercise so-called collective self-defense, which means Japan can provide protection for other countries' militaries when you are conducting combined operations. So in that sense, we already reinterpreted Article 9, and we are reviewing our security legislation to reflect this cabinet decision."

Observers believe that Mr. Abe has been pushing for the change for a number of reasons. Some say one is Mr. Abe's personality. Scott Harold is with the RAND Corporation research group.

"In part, it's because Abe fundamentally believes that it's his mission as prime minister, and he's been given a second chance to do it after resigning in disgrace in 2007, he's been given a second bite at the apple. And this time around he's determined to make sure that Japan reaches a number of important national security goals that will help ensure its survival as a nation."

At the same time, Japan's relations with its neighbors are involved. Shihoko Goto is an expert on Northeast Asia for the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. She says the biggest regional influence is China.

"China's growing military presence -- its military budget alone is going up by double digits -- and also the territorial disputes. China has these with a number of Asian countries. But in the East China Sea, it's with Japan over what Japan called the Senkaku Islands. There's also the North Korea threat that continues to this day."

Shihoko Goto adds that Mr. Abe's move to reinterpret the meaning of Article 9 also had to do with the United States. She says President Obama has talked about America's need to rebalance to Asia. But she notes the U.S. government has limits on how much it can spend. She says the Obama administration is also concerned about the Middle East and the situation in Russia.

Observers believe the Japanese decision was at least partly based on Japan's need to become more involved in defense cooperation with the U.S.

"Any opening in security legislation is welcome." Those are the words of Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Pool, a U.S. Defense Department spokesman.

The Islamic State militant group executed two Japanese citizens earlier this year. With that and Mr. Abe's visit next month, observers believe the security alliance will be an important part of the discussions.

I'm Bob Doughty.

VOA reporter Idrees Ali wrote this story for VOA's News Division. George Grow wrote it for Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.


Words in This Story

visit – n. a short stay for friendly or business reasons

reinterpretv. to understand something in a new or different way

exercise v. to use something; to do physical activities