Japan's new opposition leader said yesterday he will push to amend to the country's pacifist constitution to allow Japan's military to be more assertive overseas.
Seiji Maehara, a conservative chosen a day earlier to lead the Democratic Party, said Japan's high law must clearly give its military the right to fight back if attacked and include a new article stipulating its role in aiding allies.
The policies approach aims of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which trounced the Democrats in nationwide elections last week by grabbing a two-thirds majority with its coalition partner in the more powerful lower house of parliament.
Maehara, charged with rejuvenating the party after its humiliating loss, said constitutional revisions are needed to ensure the safety of Japanese troops, 600 of whom are now in the southern Iraqi city of Samawah backing the US-led reconstruction effort.
"What if British or Australian troops protecting public order in Samawah were attacked," Maehara said on the Asahi Television talk show Sunday Project. "The defense forces can't do anything. We can't say that's contributing to international action."
Maehara, a security expert who serves as defense minister in the Democrats' shadow Cabinet, backs a more assertive international military role for Japan. Analysts say his views could cause a rift with more dovish members of his party who vehemently oppose Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's dispatch of troops to Iraq and other overseas missions.
But Maehara stuck to a key Democratic campaign pledge yesterday, saying Japan should withdraw its troops from Samawah when their mission mandate expires on Dec. 14. Koizumi has not decided whether to extend the dispatch.
Amending Japan's constitution, drafted by US occupation forces after World War II, is a top priority for both parties, though they disagree on what needs revision. Article 9 of Japan's constitution prohibits the use of force in settling international disputes.
Empowered by its landslide election victory, Japan's ruling coalition said it will form a special committee this week to discuss constitutional changes.
Critics at home say that the dispatches violate the constitution. The Democrats have also opposed the Iraq dispatch because the grounds for the war, concern about stockpiled weapons of mass destruction, were unfounded.