TOKYO — The lower house of Japan’s Parliament passed legislation Thursday that would give the country’s military limited powers to fight in foreign conflicts for the first time since World War II.
The lawmakers acted despite broad public opposition to the legislation, which has set off Japan’s largest demonstrations since the Fukushima nuclear accident four years ago.
Opposition lawmakers walked out of Parliament to protest the package of 11 security-related bills, which was championed by the conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe, and supported by the United States, Japan’s longtime ally and protector. Demonstrators chanted outside Parliament Thursday, despite a gathering typhoon.
The bills represent a break from the strictly defensive stance maintained by Japan in the decades since the war, under which the nation would fight only if directly attacked. Critics, including a majority of Japanese constitutional specialists, said the legislation violates the country’s postwar charter, which renounces war.
Abe has spent considerable political capital pushing the bills through. Voters oppose them by a ratio of roughly 2-to-1, according to numerous surveys, and the government’s once-high support ratings fell to around 40 percent in several polls this month.
Abe has presented the package as an unavoidable response to new threats facing Japan, in particular the growing military power of China.
He seized on the murder of two Japanese hostages by Islamic State militants in January as an example of why Japan needs to loosen restrictions on its military, suggesting the hostages might have been rescued had the military been free to act.
“These laws are absolutely necessary because the security situation surrounding Japan is growing more severe,” he said after the vote Thursday.
China condemned passage of the bills, describing them as a potential threat to peace in Asia and invoking the memory of Japan’s wartime aggression.
“We solemnly urge the Japanese side to draw hard lessons from history, stick to the path of peaceful development, respect the major security concerns of its Asian neighbors and refrain from jeopardizing China’s sovereignty and security interests or crippling regional peace and stability,” Hua Chunying, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said in a statement.
With opposition lawmakers boycotting the vote, the bills passed with the support of the Liberal Democratic Party, led by Abe, and its smaller coalition partner, Komeito, which controls a majority of seats in the legislature’s lower house, the House of Representatives.
To become law, they must still be approved by the upper chamber, which the coalition also controls.
The upper house is scheduled to debate the legislation for 60 days, keeping the issue in the public eye and potentially fueling more protests.
“There is plenty of time for this newfound appetite for opposition to the Abe government to grow,” Sheila A. Smith, senior fellow for Japan studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, said online.