TOKYO • Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on New Year's Day promised he will keep his nation out of war, a day after China announced it is building a second aircraft carrier and following Tokyo's introduction in September of contentious new security legislation.
Japan's Parliament in the officially pacifist nation passed security Bills in September opening the door for Japanese troops to engage in combat overseas for the first time since the end of World War II.
The legislation met strong public resistance at home, with tens of thousands of people taking part in street protests.
It also fuelled anger in China, South Korea as well as North Korea, countries in the region that suffered some of the worst atrocities of Japan's World War II aggression.
Critics have warned that the changes could see Japanese troops dragged into far-flung foreign conflicts similar to the United States' invasions of Iraq or Afghanistan.
A PEACEFUL FOUNDATION
We have successfully built a foundation for handing down a peaceful Japan to the generations of our children and grandchildren.
MR SHINZO ABE, Japan's Prime Minister, in his New Year message
The new laws allow Japan to go to the aid of its allies when the latter are involved in conflicts that threaten Japan's own security, in what is termed as "collective self-defence".
"Under the new legislation for peace and security, we will prevent war by taking all possible preparations for any circumstances," Mr Abe said in a New Year's message.
"We have successfully built a foundation for handing down a peaceful Japan to the generations of our children and grandchildren."
Mr Abe's message came a day after China announced it was building a second aircraft carrier, which will have a displacement of 50,000 tonnes and carry China's indigenous J-15 aircraft along with other planes.
Beijing has rapidly expanded its military in recent years, rattling its neighbours and attracting the attention of the United States, which is making a foreign policy "pivot" towards Asia.
Relations between Japan and China - Asia's two biggest economies - have often been strained over competing claims to the Senkaku islands, or Diaoyu in Chinese.
Last month, a Chinese coast guard ship which appeared to be armed with several cannon entered what Tokyo regards as its territorial waters near the disputed islands.
Despite steps to improve ties, distrust remains high as China is wary of moves by Mr Abe to raise Japan's military profile while Tokyo frets about Beijing's increasing regional and global assertiveness.