(AP) Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged Tuesday to bolster Japan's security and participation in international peacekeeping efforts, steps he says the country needs to survive an increasingly insecure environment.
In a speech opening Parliament's new session, Abe said he will establish a security council at his office that will be a national diplomatic and defense command center. The ruling party also hopes to pass a companion bill protecting state secrets, legislation supporters say is necessary as Japan seeks greater responsibility in international security.
Abe is seeking to allow Japanese defense troops to fight when its allies are attacked, by reinterpreting the war-renouncing Article 9 of Japan's pacifist Constitution a reversal from the stance of previous governments.
"As global inter-dependency deepens, Japan can no longer protect its own peace without actively fulfilling its responsibility to global peace and stability," Abe said in the speech. He said Japan should be proud to have been a pacifist state since the end of World War II, but it's time to be realistic and that "We must act now in order to protect peace into the future."
Critics say the state-secrets legislation may infringe on the constitutional right to know and free press and could further limit access to public information, for which Japan is already criticized.
Japan's Parliament is returning from a recess that followed a sweeping upper house election victory by Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party in July. It gave his coalition bloc the majority in both houses, lowering hurdles for his government to pass key legislation.
The 53-day session lasts through early December, but the security bills may take time to pass as the party needs support from its pacifist-leaning coalition partner, New Komeito.
Abe also pledged to further push reforms and economic measures to fully pull Japan out of its long period of deflation, keep control of government finances, boost Japan's competitiveness and restore public confidence. Among them are measures aimed to offset the impact of the consumption tax increase in April to 8 percent from the current 5 percent in April, announced this month.
Since taking office in December, Abe has sought to achieve the goals by a combination of ultra-easy monetary policy and hefty government spending.
Abe said regaining economic strength would help disaster reconstruction, especially in radiation-hit Fukushima, and promised to boost agricultural and fisheries exports. He said the government is doing its utmost to contain the radioactive water leaks from the wrecked nuclear plant and gave reassurances of the safety of produce from the prefecture.
South Korea has banned fish imports from Japan's northeastern coast, including Fukushima, citing public worry and insufficient information from Tokyo. Japan calls the ban unscientific.
"I eat Fukushima rice at the prime minister's office every day. It's delicious," Abe said, urging consumers to do the same and "not to be confused by rumors."