A Japanese parliamentary committee approved a bill yesterday that would allow Japanese naval ships to resume a limited version of a refueling mission in the Indian Ocean that was halted by a legislative impasse.
Japanese warships had been refueling vessels from countries fighting in the US-led coalition in Afghanistan since 2001, but the mission was halted on November 1 when the opposition blocked its extension, saying it violated Japan's pacifist constitution.
The new bill, which will be considered by both houses of Japan's Diet, or parliament, limits Japanese ships to refueling and supplying water to ships used in monitoring and inspecting vessels suspected of links to terrorism or arms smuggling.
It would not allow Japanese warships to refuel vessels involved in military attacks, or in rescue operations and humanitarian relief directly related to Afghanistan.
Yesterday's approval by the lower house's anti-terrorism committee comes ahead of a visit to Washington later this week by Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who is expected to offer assurances to US President George W. Bush about Japan's support of US foreign policy.
"We've passed one stage, and it's been tough going," Fukuda told reporters late yesterday. "We must keep up our efforts on the long road ahead."
Fukuda called Tokyo's relationship with Washington "deep-rooted and wide-ranging," and said he hoped to discuss foreign policy with Bush during the visit, his first overseas since taking office in September.
Fukuda has argued that pulling out of the mission entirely would leave Japan, which depends on the Middle East for much of its oil, sidelined in the fight against global terrorism.
The full lower house, controlled by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, is expected to vote on the bill today. The bill, introduced by the LDP, is intended as a compromise to show the public that the ruling party is flexible.
The opposition Democratic Party of Japan has opposed the Afghan refueling mission, arguing that it lacks a specific mandate from the United Nations. Critics also said it violated Japan's constitution, which forbids the nation from engaging in warfare overseas.
Although the opposition party is opposing the curtailed naval mission as well, the ruling party can force the bill through the Diet because of its majority in the more powerful lower house, which can overrule an upper house rejection. However, the bill must still be debated in the opposition-controlled upper house, meaning it likely will be held up for weeks.
Source: China Daily/Agencies