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Japanese Defense Agency Upgraded into Ministry
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The Japanese Defense Agency was formally upgraded to a full ministry on Tuesday morning with a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and new Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma.

The name signs at the main gate of the Defense Agency headquarters in central Tokyo were replaced shortly before the ceremony with new name board written by Kyuma.

The bill raised by the Japanese government to upgrade the Defense Agency into a ministry cleared the Lower House plenary session in late November and passed the Upper House in mid-December.

Under the legislation, the newly-launched defense ministry will be headed by a "minister," instead of a director general whose post is held by a state minister. Peacekeeping, disaster relief and other international cooperation operations will be upgraded into the Self-Defense Forces' essential duties from their current subordinate positions.

Upgraded power of the administrative chief will include calling for a Cabinet meeting and requesting budgets directly to the Finance Ministry.

Functions of the Defense Facilities Administration Agency, which will be scrapped in fiscal 2007 starting next March, will be integrated into the upcoming "Defense Ministry."

Japanese government senior officials said it is necessary for the Defense Agency to be upgraded into a ministry in order to befit the role of defending the country and contributing to world peace in this new era.

However, some critics said the upgrade may imply a change of the defense-only policy to a more internationally-active one.

The Defense Agency was established in 1954 and has been restricted within Japan's war-renouncing pacifist Constitution. Its main tasks have been defense of the nation and disaster relief at home. As an affiliate of the Cabinet Office, the agency was under the direct control of the prime minister.

Japanese analysts said that the voice for upgrading the Defense Agency has never calmed down ever since its establishment, but the idea hasn't been brought into reality for so long because Japan's militaristic history which led the country itself into being devastated haunted among the public.

(Xinhua News Agency January 9, 2007)

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