Barely three months in office Mr Abe is also pushing through parliament a bill to turn the defence agency into a Defence ministry
BREER: Well, I don't think it's going to mean major changes, certainly not in this short run. It will bring reality into alignment with what the Constitution says, because Japan has been conducting overseas peacekeeping operations for I think more than a decade now quite successfully, and often at the behest of the United States and, of course, more often under the aegis of the United Nations.
So in doing this in the future, or participating more actively in international peacekeeping operations, it will become easier for Japan to do this, because it will not have the constitutional restraints that up until now have required special legislation every time that Cabinet has decided to dispatch forces to such places as Iraq.
LAM: Shinzo Abe of course has been a long time advocate of rewriting Japan's Constitution. Do you think Japan might now take a more pro-active role in regional security under his watch?
BREER: To some extent, but it's not going to be a dramatic departure from what we've seen up until now. Japan cooperates closely with the United States in our deployments in East Asia, and is pledged to support us in the case of a major emergency. But aside from that, they might take more active role in patrolling sea lanes too, but that benefits everybody in East Asia I think, than maintaining some kind of order in increasingly congested sea lanes.
LAM: And just this week Mr Abe broke another taboo by upgrading the current defence agency into a full fledged defence ministry, thus giving it Cabinet status. Do you think he did this because he feels that Japanese society is ready for that, for a change and a different look at its military?
BREER: Well, I think there's been a long time talk about Japan becoming a "normal" country. I don't know how you define a normal country. But most of the major nations of the world, including Germany, have a defence ministry, rather than an agency which is part of the prime minister's office. It's not going to make any major changes in Japan's defence policy, although it will somewhat dilute the influence of the foreign ministry in national security policy in Japan. Changing the defence ministry status is probably not on everybody's radar. The Constitution is a little more important I think in that regard. The Japanese people I think have taken a good deal of pride in the so-called "peace" Constitution and in the renunciation of war that it implies.
LAM: Tokyo has also announced that it will launch "history talks" next week with China, with panels of experts from both sides discussing a better understanding of their histories. Do you think it will achieve anything, given that Japan has for a long time been accused of white washing its war time aggression?
BREER: I don't know. I think the formation of the committee is a very good thing. I know Professor Kitaoka and he's a very, very intelligent forward thinking, wide ranging thinking academic.
LAM: And this professor is the head of the Japanese delegation?
BREER: That's correct. I think he's genuinely wants to achieve something. There is so much common business for China and Japan and there're so many areas where they could cooperate to improve the environment in East Asia, to improve the economies, cooperate together and just a whole range of issues. But it's pretty logical to carry on these kinds of discussions. Up until this time, it strikes me that the Chinese have used the history issues from time to time to remind the Japanese of the past in a very stark political way. I think that the Japanese have apologised pretty adequately.
The Emperor apologised when he visited Beijing some years ago. A sucession of prime ministers have expressed sincere apologies for what went on. I think nobody in modern day Japan, except a few on the outrageous fringe right, believe that what happened in the 1930s was something to boast about. I think the younger people are taught about as much about that era as we are. There is plenty of historical material available to university students in Japan in the libraries and in the book shelves, so people can make their own judgements.
There was a year long series in the Yomiuri newspaper sponsored by one of the what I used to think more conservative journalist publishers in Japan that discusses Japan's responsibility for the 1930s and lays responsibility on specific individuals in a way that I don't think has ever been done before. There is a fair amount of balance in Japan. The text books are not going off the cliff in one direction and there are conscientious people in Japan. I think Mr Kitaoka represents that group.