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Disparity remains in Japan's ruling coalition as collective self-defense debate rumbles on

TOKYO, June 20 (Xinhua) -- Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior New Komeito coalition ally on Friday remained divided over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's push to expand the nation's security architecture, within his signature plans for Japan to be able to exercise the right to collective self-defense.

The ruling coalition remained at odds over both the wording and the content of a Cabinet decision on the matter that Abe had hoped New Komeito would sign off on by the end of the current Diet session this weekend, but New Komeito party leader Natsuo Yamaguchi has confirmed that no agreement has been made and Abe has pushed the deadline back to July, while deliberations continue over the thorny issue.

Despite prior reluctance, New Komeito has shown a softer stance towards some of the collective self-defense issue, but wants the LDP to rein-in the scope of how and in what situations Japan's Self-Defense Forces (SDF) could be used under the current interpretation and legal parameters of Japan's Supreme Law which bans Japan's right to exercise collective self-defense.

At the heart of the controversial issue that has divided the ruling coalition is the war-renouncing Article 9 section of Japan' s Constitution, which has remained unchanged since its adoption in 1947 and forbids the use of force as a means of settling international disputes and also prohibits Japan from maintaining an army, navy or air force.

But the LDP is forging ahead with its plans to reinterpret the Constitution and lower the legal constraints to allow the SDF to engage in what it has described as "noncombat operations" and, in its latest move Friday, tabled the idea of Japan participating in UN collective security operations that would sees Japan duty-bound to come to the defense of an ally under attack.

New Komeito baulked at the idea as it is a huge departure from Japan's war-renouncing Constitution, though Abe insisted that the SDF would not use force under the banner of UN collective security, even if the ban on defending allies under armed attack in collective self-defense were to be reinterpreted or lifted in the Cabinet's final resolution.

As the coalition ended their eighth round of talks on the contentious issues surrounding the right to collective self- defense Friday, Abe is keen to expedite the process and is leaning hard on his coalition ally to green light his plans, having highlighted certain scenarios that may be indispensable for the safety of Japan, such as minesweeping operations overseas.

Abe underscored the volatility of areas in the Middle East and said that minesweeping operations would be vital to ensure Japan's safe supply chain of crude oil.

But under the current Constitution, minesweeping operations by the SDF are considered the same as using force and are thus banned, unless the SDF adheres to strict ceasefire regulations.

From a broader perspective, the LDP has outlined three prospective conditions that it hopes will form the basis of the Cabinet's decision and circumnavigate some of the constraints of the current Constitution.

The first condition is that Japan can use force under Article 9 of the Constitution if "the country's existence is threatened and the people's right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is feared to be overturned because of an armed attack on Japan or other countries."

The second is that force is acceptable if "no other appropriate means exist to repel aggression and protect the lives of Japanese people."

The third condition dictates that "if force is to be used then is must be kept to the minimum amount necessary."

But Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi has persistently maintained his stance that the thorny issue needs more debate,to explore what allowances can be made for defense under the current Constitution, as for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, as it stands, goes beyond "the minimum" level of self-defense and is in violation of the Supreme Law.

Yamaguchi and other New Komeito party officials have also voiced skepticism over the final decision being made solely at the Cabinet's discretion and the wording of the prospective conditions being extremely nebulous.

While New Komeito is wary of jeopardizing its ties to the LDP if the rift becomes insurmountable in the coming months, concerns are rife in the party and the public that by refuting the government's own traditional interpretation of its Constitution -- that has always been that Japan has the right to collective self- defense, but is banned by the Constitution from exercising it -- the Constitution is rendered pointless and open to future " reinterpretation" whenever the current or future Cabinet, not the Diet or the public, deems necessary.

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