TOKYO: Japan’s prime minister has likened the relaxation of strict rules on the country’s military to the seismic shift of the Meiji Restoration —widely understood as the birth of the modern nation—a report said.
Beijing sharply criticized the move of Japan on its military.
The comments emerged on Tuesday after Shinzo Abe proclaimed Japan’s powerful military had the right to go into battle in defense of allies, so-called “collective self-defense”, in a highly contentious change in the nation’s pacifist stance.
The conservative premier, who has long cherished a desire to beef up Japan’s armed forces, faced massive opposition from a population deeply wedded to the principle of pacifism that underpins its identity.
He had sought in public to play down the shift, which he said was a necessary update to better protect Japan in a region dominated by an increasingly assertive China and worried by an erratic North Korea, which on Wednesday lobbed rockets into the Sea of Japan (East Sea).
But talking to senior officials of his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) he said “collective self-defense is as significant as the Meiji Restoration,” Jiji Press reported on Wednesday, without citing sources.
The 1868 Meiji Restoration marks the beginning of modern Japan, when it cast off more than two centuries of feudalism under samurai warriors in which foreign travel was banned and the ports were closed to outsiders.
It saw the emperor return to pre-eminence at the pinnacle of the state and heralded the coming of rapid industrialization that would lead to the ultimately-thwarted imperial ambitions that found voice in World War II.
Asked by Agence France-Presse to comment on the prime minister’s comparison, deputy chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato demurred, but did not deny it had been made.
“I decline to comment on it . . . as the comment was not made in a public arena nor was recorded,” he said.
“However, the prime minister has said on various occasions, including at the press conference yesterday, that we protect people’s lives and peace whatever happens,” Kato added.
China’s state-run media launched a broadside on Wednesday against Japan’s move to loosen the bonds on its powerful military, casting it as a threat to Asian security.
“The Japanese government is eager to break through the post-war system,” wrote the ruling Communist Party’s flagship People’s Daily newspaper in an editorial penned under the name “Zhong Sheng,” a homophone for “Voice of China.”
It called the Abe government’s move “a dangerous signal, as well as a wake-up call.”
In a commentary late on Tuesday, China’s official Xinhua news agency challenged Tokyo with a question: “Is China on your military agenda?”
“Japan has a history of making sneaky attacks, as it did in launching wars with China, Russia and the United States in the recent 100 years,” Xinhua wrote.
“Now, Japan, with greater freedom to use military force, is making the world more worried,” it added.
China, home to the world’s largest military, far outnumbers rival Japan in manpower, ships, aircraft and defense spending.
China’s official defense budget last year came to $119.5 billion, while according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Military Balance 2014 report, released in February, Japan’s total was $51 billion.
Tokyo and Beijing have long been at odds over islands in the East China Sea, and Beijing has argued that a reinterpretation of Japan’s pacifist constitution could open the door to remilitarization of a country it considers insufficiently penitent for its actions in World War II. AFP