Japan’s government will press ahead with divisive plans to loosen restrictions on its military, a top government spokesman said on Monday, despite widespread public anger and a protester’s horrific suicide bid.
Hundreds of people in the busy Tokyo district of Shinjuku watched on Sunday as a middle-aged man in a suit set himself ablaze above a footbridge, after making a speech opposing moves to let Japan’s well-equipped military fight on behalf of allies.
The dramatic suicide attempt was widely discussed on social media in both English and Japanese, with numerous videos and photographs posted by onlookers.
Many Internet users made the connection between the self-immolation and a groundswell of opposition to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push to relax constitutional rules preventing Japan’s armed forces from going into battle.
Abe says growing regional tensions — including China’s increasingly assertive stance in various territorial disputes — and the erratic actions of North Korea mean Japan must be better prepared to defend itself.
The conservative premier’s plans to increase Japan’s military options are supported by the United States, Tokyo’s chief ally, but are highly controversial at home, where voters are deeply wedded to the pacifism Japan adopted after World War II.
The government’s chief spokesman Yoshihide Suga on Monday refused to comment on the protester’s suicide attempt, which he said was a police matter, but confirmed that the cabinet would push ahead on Tuesday with plans to change the interpretation of part of the pacifist constitution.
Under the current reading, Japan’s large and well-trained military is barred from taking any action, except in very narrowly defined circumstances in which the country is under attack.
“We are in the final stage of the coordination between the ruling parties,” Suga told reporters. “Once the consensus is made between the ruling parties, we will have it approved by the cabinet tomorrow.”
The latest polls suggest at least half the population is against a more aggressive military stance.
The liberal Mainichi newspaper said at the weekend that 58 percent of voters are opposed, while the Nikkei business daily, in its poll published on Monday, said 50 per cent of respondents were against the change.