Lawmakers in both the ruling and opposition parties are taking a cautious stance toward remarks about a possible review Japan's three principles on arms exports made by Seiji Maehara, chairman of the Democratic Party of Japan's Policy Research Committee.
The possibility of reviewing the principles was discussed last December, when the administration of former Prime Minister Naoto Kan was working out a national defense program guideline.
However, the Social Democratic Party opposed the idea, and with Kan not keen on it, the issue was dropped. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who was serving as the finance minister of the Kan Cabinet at the time, supported the possible review.
Some officials in the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry said that though they thought such a review was impossible under the Kan administration, they expected Noda might move forward on the matter.
However, one of Noda's aides said, "Nothing indicated that he [Maehara] had coordinated his views with the government." It is therefore uncertain whether the issue will be on the agenda at the Japan-U.S. summit meeting.
At a press conference Thursday morning, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said, "We'll consider the issue." But in the afternoon he revised his remark.
"For now, we have made no concrete decisions on how to proceed with the debate. I believe [Maehara] was giving his personal opinion," Fujimura said.
The positions of Fujimura and other DPJ members remain to be articulated due to the party's internal situation, in which members who formerly belonged to the Japan Socialist Party and some other members strongly oppose the review.
In an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun and other media, Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa said, "It remains to be seen whether [Maehara's remark] will be considered as merely one opinion within the party."
Some members of the opposition parties, which the Noda administration wants to cooperate with on post-disaster reconstruction, voiced cautious views on the matter.
New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi said: "How does the [new] government interpret the original purpose behind the three principles, namely that Japan should not be party to escalating or expanding armed conflict? How does the government intend to project or change Japan's image in the international community? Debates on these points have been totally insufficient."
In the wake of changes to decision-making policies after the launch of the new Cabinet, the DPJ's chairman of the Policy Research Committee has gained strong authority, such as the power to prescreen government-sponsored bills prior to submission to the Diet.
Maehara himself has a reputation for voicing strong ideas, but not being able to realize them, as was seen in his reactions to the construction of Yamba Dam when he served as the land, infrastructure, transport and tourism minister.
Some lawmakers expressed concern that his stance over the review of the three principles may cause confusion.
(Sep. 10, 2011)