Japanese troops on peacekeeping operations in war-ridden South Sudan will soon be allowed to participate in United Nations rescue missions. The country's government has approved plans on Tuesday (15 November) to allow soldiers to respond to urgent calls from UN staff and NGO personnel.

Up until now, Japanese troops have primarily worked on building infrastructure in South Sudan and were not allowed to participate in any conflict-related missions but this new role could lead to the Asian country's first involvement in overseas fighting since the Second World War.

Japanese peace keepers
Japanese peace keepers in South Sudan were primarily involved in infrastructure development REUTERS/James Akena

The new plan applies to troops that will be dispatched to South Sudan from 20 November. The mandate is in line with security legislation enacted in 2015 to expand the overseas role of Japan's military, known as the Self-Defense Forces (SDF).

"South Sudan cannot assure its peace and stability on its own and for that very reason, a UN peacekeeping operation is being conducted," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday, according to Reuters. "The SDF... is carrying out activities that only it can do in a tough environment."

Japan's armed forces will also defend camps of UN peacekeepers in the country jointly with troops from other nations.

However, concerns have been raised that the new plan will put the soldiers at risk, but others are pleased that the new mandate will allow Japan to play a more important role on the international level.

"The SDF has been part of this mission since 2012. Japan's pacifist Constitution limits them to non-military functions like building roads. Such a modest role is unworthy of a great nation, say those determined to make Japan a great nation," Michael Hoffman wrote in an article for Japan Times.