The upgrading of Japan's Defense Agency to a full ministry on Tuesday marked a critical step toward Tokyo becoming a major military power. It will have an important influence on the country's efforts to build up its military.
Ostensibly, the renaming is just about the change of a single word. But in essence, the new ministry is fundamentally different from its predecessor. It is by no means an isolated move, but a pivotal part of Japan's strategy for acquiring a greater military capability and for revising its self-defense-only policy.
Established in 1954, the defense agency has been restricted by Japan's pacifist constitution, which renounces war. Its main tasks have been national defense, preserving social security and domestic disaster relief.
The upgrading comes as Japan, which was defeated in World War II, is eager to free itself from the restrictions. The move is seen as a bid to justify overseas operations by Japan's Self-Defense Force.
Japan's military spending has been among the highest in the world and it with the most advanced weaponry in Asia it has a powerful combat capability.
The powers of the new ministry have been significantly extended. It will be given a freer rein to increase the country's defense expenditure and military strength. As a ministry, it also has greater budgetary powers and can directly present the defense budget to parliament, thus having a greater say in the process of formulating budgets.
By revamping the Self-Defense Force law, which has upgraded the force's overseas missions and logistical support for the US during wartime from minor to essential tasks, Japan has laid the legal groundwork for giving the force unrestrained power to conduct global operations.
Japan's pacifist constitution renounces war and the threat or use of force in settling international disputes. It also strips the country of the right to maintain military power, but this has already been bypassed.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party is struggling free of the shackles of the constitution and upgrading the defense agency will speed up this process.
The upgrade not only challenges the civilian control of the Self-Defense Force but the regional equilibrium in Northeast Asia.
People have every reason to doubt whether Japan is honoring its commitment to develop peacefully and to acknowledge its history --the country continues to raise the profile of its military, boost its defense power and seeking a broader role abroad for its forces.
Japan's military build-up is bound to cause its Asian neighbors, who suffered enormously from its aggression during World War II, to worry and to be more vigilant.
(Xinhua News Agency January 10, 2007)