TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday called for a review of legal limits on the military's ability to fight overseas, signalling a potential landmark change in a security policy long constrained by the pacifist, post-war constitution.
In an effort to address concerns among Asian neighbours and wary Japanese voters, Abe also pledged that Japan would stick to a peaceful path and not again become a "country that wages war".
In a summary of his prepared remarks at a news conference, Abe called for a review of a decades-old interpretation of the constitution that has banned Japan from exercising its right of collective self-defence, or dispatching its military to aid friendly countries under attack.
But he said the government would not adopt a recommendation by private advisers that Japan also lift its ban on taking part in U.N.-led collective security operations, in which nations join to propel an aggressor against one state.
Citing security challenges including a rising China and volatile North Korea, Abe's advisers in a report submitted earlier urged sweeping changes in a defence policy long based on the principle that Japan has the right to defend itself with the minimum force necessary, but that combat abroad exceeds that limit.
Abe has made clear his desire to loosen the limits of the U.S.-drafted charter, which conservatives say restricts Japan's ability to defend itself.
But doubts remain about how far and how quickly he can go.
His Liberal Democratic Party's junior partner, the New Komeito, is wary, voters are divided and the LDP's deputy leader is worried about the impact on local polls this year and next.
(Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Chris Gallagher)