Japan anti-terror bill set for approval
TOKYO, Japan -- Japan's Lower House has passed a bill allowing its troops to give logistical support to America and its allies in overseas military operations for the first time since World War II.
The bill, which clarifies the role Japan's military could play in U.S.-led operations without violating the nation's pacifist constitution, was adopted despite objections by the main opposition Democratic Party and other opposition groups.
The bill is virtually a done deal and should be passed by the upper House of Councillors -- where Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's ruling coalition has a majority -- as early as next week
Koizumi had been keen for the powerful lower chamber to approve the legislation before he heads to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit on October 20 and 21 in Shanghai, where he is set to meet U.S. President George W. Bush and other leaders.
The new legislation has sparked debate across East Asia -- where memories of wartime militarism and defeat run deep -- over how far Japan can go without breaching its pacifist constitution.
Any moves by Japan to enhance the role of its military is normally met with suspicion and hostility by countries that suffered under Japanese military occupation during World War II, especially China and South Korea.
Koizumi had promised speedy passage of the bill during a meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush in the United States last month.
But earlier this week, Koizumi's moves to push it through quickly with opposition support stalled when talks with Democratic Party leader Yukio Hatoyama broke down.
Koizumi rejected Hotoyama's demand that the government get parliamentary approval before sending Japanese troops to assist with logistical, humanitarian and other non-combat support.
Hatoyama's party also objected to transporting arms and weapons, which the bill allows, although it bans the supplying of them.
"This is a unilateral vote without sufficient debate and discussions, and we can never approve of this," Hatoyama said in a statement, Reuters reported.
Under the draft legislation, effective for two years and extendable for up to two more years, Japan could dispatch troops to supply medical services and supplies, as well as humanitarian aid for refugees.
Analysts warn, however, that any move by Japan to boost its military role could stir controversy in Asia because of the country's past imperialism.
In recent days Koizumi has traveled to South Korea and to China to assure Asian neighbors that the new legislation would not pave the way for Japanese military resurgence.
Japanese leaders are also keen to avoid a rerun of Japan's 1991 diplomatic embarrassment when it came under fire from much of the world community for declining to commit even a token force to the Gulf War.
Instead, Tokyo extended $13 billion in aid for the U.S.-led multinational forces trying to oust Iraq from Kuwait.
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