New national security laws that went into force this week will allow Toyko to send troops abroad more easily, reinforcing Japan’s international military presence. The measures come six months after their parliamentary approval, which came amid protests and controversy in September.
The new legislation will allow the Japanese government to send troops abroad in case of clear threat to Japan’s national security and protection of the right to collective self-defense enshrined in the United Nations. The Japanese military will also have more freedom of action in case of firefights with enemy forces directly involving Japanese citizens or troops from allied countries.
This is the most important strategic change in the attitude of Japan since the end of World War II, when the country renounced the use of war. The shift is also an important political victory for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who since 2012 has sought to revive the country’s stature in international politics.
The Asia Pacific region has been increasingly involved in a new arms race. According to a study by the Peace Research Institute in Stockholm, from 2011 to 2015 the region is the largest buyer in the global arms market, with 46 percent of the total global purchases. At the end of 2015, Tokyo approved a record budget for defense, about $42 million. Since the end of 2013 the government of Tokyo led by the conservative Abe has oriented its policies toward the security sector, giving the go ahead to the creation of a National Security Council after the American model.
Although appreciated by the U.S., Japan’s new defense posture has raised concerns, especially in China and South Korea. Abe’s move could actually undermine stability in the region. Perhaps in anticipation of this, Tokyo has recently appointed a new ambassador to Beijing, Yutaka Yokoi, a China scholar and therefore dubbed as belonging to the “Chinese school” of Japanese diplomacy.