TOKYO • Japan's new security laws took effect yesterday, allowing its troops to fight overseas for the first time since World War II.
The security laws, which were passed last September after chaotic scenes in Parliament, marked a landmark defence policy shift in a country with a war-renouncing Constitution, according to Kyodo News.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said the security legislation is vital to meeting new challenges, including a rising China and threats from North Korea's nuclear and missile development.
Critics said the changes, which have triggered mass demonstrations in Japan, violate its pacifist Constitution and increase the risk of involvement in foreign wars.
Opposition parties plan to campaign for the laws' repeal in an Upper House election in July.
A voter survey by the Yomiuri newspaper published yesterday showed 47 per cent did not approve of the changes, against 38 per cent who did. That compared with 58 per cent who opposed the legislation last September versus 31 per cent who approved.
But in a separate survey by the Nikkei business daily, only 35 per cent said the legislation should be repealed, while 43 per cent said it should remain in place.
The laws largely expand the role of Japan's Self-Defence Forces overseas. The most notable change is that Japan can now, in a limited manner, exercise the right to collective self-defence - or come to the aid of the United States and other friendly nations under armed attack even if Japan itself is not attacked.
The legislation "is vital to prevent wars and protect the people's lives and livelihoods amid an increasingly severe security environment surrounding our country", Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference. "The government will first preserve the peace through diplomacy and there is no change at all in our policy of proactive diplomacy for that purpose."
The US, an ally of Japan, has welcomed the changes.
But China, where bitter memories of Tokyo's wartime aggression run deep, has repeatedly expressed concern about the legislation.
A commentary carried by Xinhua news agency yesterday said the new security laws put regional peace and stability in danger.
"As Japan is marching on the road of militarisation, other countries, especially its Asian neighbours, should be vigilant."