TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japan's cabinet is set to approve on Thursday bills to implement a drastic shift in security policy allowing the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War Two, although the public is divided and wary of the change.
The planned changes, reflected in new US-Japan defence guidelines unveiled last month, set the stage for Japan to play a bigger role in the bilateral alliance as Tokyo and Washington face challenges such as China's growing military assertiveness.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet adopted a resolution last July reinterpreting the pacifist constitution to drop a self-imposed ban on exercising the right of collective self-defence, or militarily aiding a friendly country under attack.
Abe is expected to hold a news conference after his cabinet approves the bills following the formal sign-off by his Liberal Democratic Party and its more dovish partner, the Komeito party.
Abe's promise in a speech to the US Congress on April 29 that the legislation would be enacted this summer angered opposition parties, but the bills are likely to pass in coming months given the ruling bloc's majority in parliament.
Opinion polls show that Japanese voters are both confused by and divided over the changes, which even supporters say have stretched the post-war constitution's pacifist Article 9 to the limit. Abe has made clear he wants to formally revise Article 9, a more politically difficult goal to achieve.
A survey by public broadcaster NHK aired this week showed that 49 per cent didn't understand the proposed changes very well or at all. Fifty per cent did not approve of Japan's expanded military role in the new US-Japan defence guidelines.
"The problem is that even looking at the legislation, one cannot envision when, and how far, the Self-Defence Forces (military) will be deployed," said an editorial in the Nikkei business daily.
The new legislation would allow Japan to exercise the minimum force necessary if a country with close ties to Tokyo is attacked. It would also allow Japan's military to provide logistics support to foreign forces operating in line with the UN charter, without a special law for each mission.
Another change would drop geographical limits on Japanese defence support for the US military and other foreign armed forces, which had previously been envisioned as restricted to situations involving contingencies on the Korean peninsula.