The Straits Times says

Why 'security' is not a dirty word

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has set the cat among the teeming doves in his nation by seeking to push through Bills that modify his nation's security laws. If the Diet clears it, as looks likely given the overwhelming support he enjoys in the powerful Lower House, Japanese troops could be deployed abroad to come to the aid of an ally, even if there is no deemed direct threat to Japan. Mr Abe calls this "collective defence". Some in Asia fear it is militarism.

Against the 70th anniversary of World War II, Mr Abe's attempts to reinterpret the US-written Constitution, adopted in the wake of Japan's war defeat, have evoked memories of Japanese war atrocities. China, which thought it had a free run over Asia, is unhappy at the development. That comes as no surprise. Interestingly, there's strident opposition within Japan too, where unusually large numbers of people took to the streets this month. Clearly, a reality check is due.

Without question, Japanese wartime aggression cannot be easily forgotten. The punitive strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki - Japan is the only nation to have suffered nuclear attack - were the terrible retribution that it bore. Since its surrender in 1945, its behaviour has been beyond reproach. Various Japanese governments have apologised for the war. This month, Mitsubishi, the giant zaibatsu, became the first Japanese corporation to issue its own apology for using American prisoners of war. Japan has made war reparations - it is the second-biggest contributor to the United Nations, and it has participated in UN peacekeeping missions since 1992, albeit in supportive roles.

In this region, particularly, it will be remembered for the capital and technology that created the East Asian economic miracle. Even China, which this month was so critical of the Japanese reinterpretation of their Constitution, owes much to Japanese technology and money.

Japan, the war criminal, has done its penance. It is time now for the world to accept it as a normal nation, entitled to a national army and not a mere "self-defence force". The excessive worry at home - a combination of Mr Abe's inability to present a convincing story and a genuine fear of losing its seven-decade-long pacifism - is unfortunate. The Japanese must see that rising tensions in their neighbourhood, outlined in the recent defence White Paper, and the reasonable expectation that the United States will not provide it a security umbrella forever and a day, are good reasons for Japan to make the necessary changes. Even with the amendments, there will be multiple checks on Japan's ability to use force overseas.

While politics is usually about the next election, statesmen are obliged to take the long view. Mr Abe is doing just that. The sooner his people and his neighbours are reconciled to the idea, the better for Japan - and Asia.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2015, with the headline 'Why 'security' is not a dirty word'. Print Edition | Subscribe