Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, in an interview published yesterday, that he expected his country to be playing a more assertive military role throughout "the entire world" -- and have a new constitution to back this ambition.
The comments, made to the Washington Post and Newsweek magazine, came ahead of Abe's visit to the US and his Camp David summit this coming week with US President George W. Bush.
The two leaders were expected to discuss a broad range of international and bilateral issues, including plans by the Abe government to rewrite the country's pacifist post-World War II Constitution to cast off many of the restrictions it places on the country's military.
"I think it is the responsibility of anyone involved in politics to always think of what Japan can do to contribute more to the peace and stability not just of Japan and the region but of the entire world," Abe said in the interview.
Japan had already deployed and pulled out 600 troops from Iraq, where they took part in rebuilding the relatively peaceful southern region of Muthanna.
The mission marked the first time since World War II when Japanese troops were deployed to a country amid a full-fledged conflict.
The second-largest UN contributor after the US, Japan has also joined eight UN peacekeeping operations -- from Cambodia to the Golan Heights -- and now has about 5,700 personnel involved in them.
Tokyo had also sent troops to Thailand and Indonesia to help them recover from the 2004 tsunami.
Meanwhile this year, Tokyo converted its defense agency into a formal Ministry of Defense, a move that was interpreted by many as a clear indication of the Abe government's intent to free itself from some of the shackles of the post-war, US-ordered Constitution.
When asked about his plans, the prime minister said there were provisions in the Japanese Constitution "that no longer suit the times."
"The security environment surrounding Japan and the entire world has undergone major change," he explained. "There has been proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the fight against terrorism and regional conflicts arising here and there."
The US and other members of the international community, Abe added, also expected of Japan to make increasing contributions to "various international challenges."
He said the new basic law "should reflect the shape of the country we consider desirable in the 21st century."
Despite concerns by some key Asian nations, the Bush administration has repeatedly encouraged Japan to play a more active military role outside its borders.
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