One-Letter Change Ends Decades of Military Policy; Defense Agency Granted Cabinet Status to Match New Goals

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Byline: Richard Halloran, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Japan Defense Agency is about to become the Japanese Ministry of Defense, a change in name that seems small on the surface but reflects a substantial shift in Japanese thinking on national security and is a signal to potential adversaries in North Korea and China.

In Japanese, the new name requires changing only one ideogram, from "cho" to "sho." In Romanized Japanese, it is but one letter.

In American English, most people would not see much difference between "agency" and "ministry," but in a nation often driven by symbols, the shift reflects a new assertiveness as Japan prepares to deal with any threats from China, officials and analysts say.

The Diet, Japan's legislature, authorized the change last month with surprisingly little opposition, given the pacifist stance of left-wing parties in the past. It becomes effective tomorrow.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters that the name change "demonstrates both domestically and internationally the maturity of Japanese democracy."

Mr. Abe also said the change shows "our confidence in civilian control. It also sends a signal that Japan is prepared to contribute even more to the international community and that it will take on its role responsibly."

North Korea and China say the move reflects a resurgence of Japanese militarism.

The Korean Central News Agency, controlled by the government in Pyongyang, said turning the defense agency into a ministry was intended to realize Japan's "militarist ambition for overseas expansion."

The People's Daily, which is controlled by China's government, said the shift reflected "a change in nature" for Japan's defense establishment as it "clears barriers for the Japanese armed forces on their way of going beyond self-defense."

However, analysts say it was belligerence from the North Koreans and Chinese that accelerated a Japanese revision of their thinking on military power and caused Tokyo to strengthen its defense ties with the United States.

In practical politics, the director-general of the defense agency becomes the minister of defense and a member of the Cabinet that presides over the executive branch of Tokyo's government. …