TOKYO, May 15 -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a press conference Thursday that he aims to lift the ban on exercising collective self-defense by reinterpreting the pacifist constitution as a panel report proposed earlier in the day.
The report submitted by Abe's hand-picked panel of right- leaning experts undoubtedly met the government's expectation and will set the stage for Abe's push to allow the military to play a greater role in international security.
Japan currently maintains a military force only for its own defense, and has previously interpreted the war-renouncing Article 9 of its postwar constitution to mean it cannot engage in what is known as collective self-defense.
But the panel, headed by former Japanese ambassador to the United States Shunji Yanai, thought the interpretation is " inappropriate", arguing that the collective self-defense falls within "minimum" defense allowed by the constitution.
Abe has made no secret of his desire to amend the constitution to remove the prohibition, but as Yanai said after Thursday's meeting of his panel that Japan "has very strict rules to be followed to amend the constitution and realistically speaking it would be almost impossible."
So by reinterpretation, Abe's government doesn't need to amend the constitution, which has never been revised since its promulgation in 1946, but can avoid the restrictions by Article 9, the backbone of Japan's postwar security framework.
If approved, the change could allow Japan to come to the defense of its allies, such as the United States, even if Japan itself is not subject to the attack.
The 14-member panel also recommended a set of criteria for Japan to engage in collective self-defense, such as "when a foreign country that is in a close relationship with Japan comes under armed attacks" or "if such a situation has the potential to significantly affect the security of Japan."
Though the Abe government hopes to remove the ban on exercising collective self-defense, it is uncertain whether the ruling Liberal Democratic Party can win the backing of New Komeito, its junior coalition partner, soon after they launch talks early next week.
Natsuo Yamaguchi, the leader of New Komeito, reiterated on Wednesday his cautious stance against constitutional reinterpretation, saying the government should focus on economic restoration and social insurance reform.
The public opinions are also mixed on the issue. A poll of more than 2,000 adults nationwide showed 63 percent oppose exercising collective self-defense, the Asahi Shimbun reported last month.
That was up from 56 percent last year and more than doubles the 29 percent who support the idea, the poll showed.