TOKYO, July 14 (Xinhua) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday that under the new reinterpretation of the Constitution, the nation's forces will be allowed into combat zones, such as the Middle East, to conduct missions like minesweeping.
Speaking at a House of Representatives Budget Committee, Abe said that Japan's forces would operate under stricter international standards than their foreign counterparts and would remain committed to conducting security missions under an " exclusively defense-oriented policy."
A Cabinet approval on July 1 paved the way for the Japanese forces to exercise and expand the right to collective self-defense.
In Abe's first forum for debate in parliament on the Cabinet's controversial decision, the prime minister, while previously stating that Japanese forces would not be allowed to use force in combat situations, said that the forces would not be permitted to use force "to the same degree" as other countries exercising collective self-defense.
"We will maintain our basic policy that is committed exclusively to defense. It does not mean that we will be allowed to use the same level of collective self-defense as other countries," Abe said.
"Under international law, minesweeping amounts to use of force. We cannot participate in combat operations to use force, but if the operation is passive and restrained like minesweeping, it's likely the three conditions will be cleared," he added.
Abe was referring to three conditions in which the use of force would be valid under the current interpretation of the Constitution, as endorsed by the Cabinet, but rejected by the majority of the public, which include instances where Japan or one of its allies is attacked and a clear danger is posed to Japan's existence and its people's rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Under such circumstances and when there are no alternative or other appropriate options, Japan, under the new defense motion, will be allowed to use force, provided it's kept to a minimum.
Abe said that if these conditions are met, Japanese forces could be deployed in security operations and he highlighted the case of units being deployed for minesweeping operations, citing the fact that around 80 percent of Japan's crude oil passes through the highly volatile Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf.
The prime minister said that if this key supply chain were to be disrupted by mines, Japanese forces would be duty-bound to remedy the situation, or the country would face a "devastating" impact.
But observers have pointed out that since the Cabinet's unprecedented approval of the new conditions on the use of collective self-defense, ushered in on the 60th anniversary of the establishment of Japan's Self-Defense Forces, a number of contradictions have come to light.
"Japan will never take part in fighting such as has taken place in the Gulf War or the Iraq War," Abe told a news conference following the Cabinet's decision made on July 1.
But Under the new interpretation of the Constitution, Japan could potentially participate in United Nations-led collective security operations, which in no way fall under Abe's provisos for exercising the right to collective self-defense and would be a wholesale departure from Abe's "defense-only" mantra and decades- held pacifist ideology, and a complete whitewashing of the Constitution's Article 9 war-renouncing clause.
In addition, Abe told parliament Monday that if further reinterpretations of the Constitution where necessary to broaden the scope of Japan's forces, he would seek to amend the Constitution , a procedure that would require both public and parliamentary referendums, both of which Abe flagrantly avoided, leading many observers to question the constitutionality of the Cabinet's unilateral military recasting and Abe's future military ambitions.
With nationwide polls showing that 55 percent of the public oppose Japan engaging in collective self-defense, and almost 60 percent in opposition to Abe achieving this by changing the government's interpretation of the Constitution, the prime minister told parliament Monday he would seek further public approval.
But seeking public approval retroactively and for a controversial move that theoretically could see Japanese forces embroiled in war, despite Abe's shaky rebuttals, for many Japanese citizens will be a hard pill to swallow, as the latest statistics show.
Voter support for Abe has already dropped below 50 percent, according to a recent public opinion poll, and observers believe a public backlash against Abe and his administration is gaining momentum, as evidenced by the loss of Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party-backed candidate in the Shiga Prefecture gubernatorial election on Sunday.
Taizo Mikazuki, a former member of parliament from the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, won the vacant slot, having campaigned heavily against Abe's moves to overhaul the nation's security protocols. The victory has made a significant political dent in the LDP's armory, and while Abe is not up for re-election until 2016, three other prefectures will elect governors later this year, with more local polls set for next April.
Observers believe that over the coming months and years, the public will make its sentiments felt and voice its growing indignation at local and national polls, to rein in a ruling party that has charted a course away from pacifism into potentially confrontational waters.