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Japan passes controversial law to nix military limits

This weekend, Japan gave the green light to its military to deploy troops abroad to help allies fight in the name of collective self-defense, removing a limitation on troops engaging only in self-defense were Japan to be attacked. Peter Landers, the Tokyo bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, joins Hari Sreenivasan via Skype to discuss the reasons and implications for the policy change.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR ANCHOR:

    This weekend, Japan broke with 70 years of post-World War II passivism by giving the green light to its military to deploy troops abroad to help allies fight in the name of "collective self-defense." No specific deployment is on the table, but the new law removes a limitation on Japanese troops engaging only in self-defense were Japan to be attacked.

    Joining me now to discuss the reasons for and implications of this policy change is Peter Landers, a Tokyo bureau chief for the "Wall Street Journal." This is a big deal. There were crowds protesting this move for days on the streets of Tokyo.

    PETER LANDERS, TOKYO BUREAU CHIEF, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": That's right. For the first time, as you said, Japan may be able to help allies like the United States, even if Japan itself is not attacked. And this, according to these critics, is a violation of Japan's constitution.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So the concerns are what? That Japan starts to get dragged into being a coalition of the willing in other parts of the world?

  • PETER LANDERS:

    That's right. If there were a future conflict in Iraq or Afghanistan, perhaps that the U.S. would demand that Japan take part, and Japan would get ensnared in this conflict that has nothing to do with itself. That's the fear of these critics.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And the prime minister, on the other hand, says look, we're not in a neighborhood like the United States. We don't have the nice, huge buffer of Mexico and Canada, friendly countries next door. And there's also a lot more tension rising now with China.

  • PETER LANDERS:

    That's right. He says we wouldn't get involved in a conflict like the one in Iraq. This is really about protecting the peace in the East Asian region where China's military is growing rapidly. North Korea, of course, has a nuclear threat aimed at Japan. And he says, look, if the U.S. is attacked while it's trying to help defend Japan, what sense does it make that Japan can't come to the aid of the U.S.? It's bartered an alliance. And so that's why he felt this legislation was really essential to Japan.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And you mention North Korea. I mean, the Korean Peninsula very close by. And that is constantly in a state of escalation, de-escalation.

  • PETER LANDERS:

    That's right. And he talked about a scenario where perhaps even Japanese citizens could get ensnared in a conflict in the Korean Peninsula, and Japan wouldn't have the wherewithal to rescue them. So that's another element of this legislation.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So the United States, the U.K. are on board. They support this. What about reaction from China?

  • PETER LANDERS:

    China is somewhat cautious, of course. They say they don't trust Japan, given the wartime history. And I think also in China, being anti-Japanese is sort of a rallying cry for the Communist Party, which may not have support in other quarters in China, but certainly can rally the troops and rally the people of China by saying that they will stand up to any kind of Japan's – any kind of aggressiveness on Japan's part.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    What's the future for this law? Does it get challenged in the courts, or do the courts defer to the government on this?

  • PETER LANDERS:

    That's an interesting question. Yes, I think courts traditionally in Japan have deferred to the government. There probably will be challenges, but the opponents at the moment really lack standing to bring any challenge to the court, because no one has suffered any specific injury from this legislation and probably won't for awhile unless there's some conflict in the near future.

    So the more likely path for critics to challenge the law is in elections at the ballot box. And there is an upper house election coming next July, July 2016. And that will be their first chance, I think, to make the argument to the Japanese people that this is a bad law, a dangerous law. And also Prime Minister Abe's chance to defend it.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Peter Landers, Tokyo bureau chief for the "Wall Street Journal," joining us via Skype today. Thanks so much.

  • PETER LANDERS:

    Thank you.

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