[VIEWPOINT]Amending Japan’s constitution

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[VIEWPOINT]Amending Japan’s constitution

The Liberal Democratic Party of Japan officially announced a proposal for a constitutional amendment on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. This is the first time that a major Japanese political party has decided on an amendment to the constitution in the form of a legal provision. The constitutional revision will not be decided right away, but since the ruling party has made a proposal, there is a good chance that the amendment of the peace constitution will be promoted swiftly.
The constitutional amendment is of course an internal affair of Japan. Since the focus of the amendment lies in making official Japan’s right to maintain an army and expand its range of activities, it will greatly influence the overall political and military situation of Northeast Asia, including South Korea.
Since the straits of Korea and Taiwan are the major contingency areas for Japan right now, the amendment of the constitution is, for South Korea, more than Japan’s domestic issue. We must carefully watch the development of the issue and consider a comprehensive and thoughtful counteraction to the situation.
The main point of the Liberal Democratic Party’s draft amendment lies in revising Article 9 of the constitution, so that Japan can maintain an army. Article 9, which constitutes the essence of the current peace constitution, is composed of two parts ― renouncing war (Clause 1) and not maintaining land, sea or air forces or other war-making potential (Clause 2). The draft amendment proposes to keep Clause 1 but revise Clause 2.
The point that we have to pay attention to is that the duty of the Self-Defense Force not only comprises the defense of Japan itself but also “securing the peace and safety of international society.” Although a clause stipulating that it has to be an action taken under international cooperation has been added, the proposal expands the range of activities of the Japanese Self-Defense Force to overseas. In addition, duties such as “maintaining public order in case of emergency” and “defending people’s lives or freedom” have been added, too. In other words, a road has been opened for the Japanese Army to intervene in domestic politics on the pretext of taking a counteraction against terrorism.
Article 20, related to freedom of religion, has been revised, too. The provision permits the government and public organizations to render assistance to a certain religion within the scope that is permissible by social courtesy or practices.
It can be speculated that the provision has been made with worship at the Yasukuni Shrine in mind, which has provoked endless controversy over whether or not it is constitutional, since it goes against the separation of politics and religion. As long as there is a military, securing a facility for those who sacrifice for the nation can be seen as the logical conclusion.
Compared to the first draft by the Liberal Democratic Party, the final proposal has been refined a great deal. Words like “patriotism,” “national defense” and “Japanese tradition,” which were in the original version, have been deleted, and Clause 1 of Article 9, related to the renunciation of war, has been maintained. They say that this is the result of restraining the voice of the conservative hardliners while the realists initiate the draft.
To put it in another way, it can be said that it is a decision that has placed more importance on the chances of amending the constitution practically. The proposal shows that the ruling party pursues the practical benefit of stipulating the maintenance of an army by aligning with the opposition party instead of causing a controversy by clinging to reactionary values or words.
It does not mean that the constitution will be amended right away, only because the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has presented a draft constitutional amendment. Since there is no law governing the procedure of the amendment, a law on a referendum has to be enacted first.
Within both the coalition-member New Komeito Party and the opposition Democratic Party, there still are many different opinions on the amendment. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s cabinet won an overwhelming victory in the general elections, but there still are a lot of obstacles to overcome before the constitution is amended.
First of all, public opinion is still cautious about amending Article 9. According to various poll results, around 60 percent of the public is in favor of amending the constitution itself, but the majority is against the amendment of Article 9, which is the essence of the peace constitution. According to a survey conducted by the Mainichi Shimbun on Oct. 5, those in favor of amending the constitution was 58 percent, while those against amending Article 9 was 62 percent, which is more than twice the 30 percent in favor.
This shows that the majority of the Japanese people still have a deep-rooted hostility toward war and keeping an army. The reality is that the opinion of politicians and media on the constitutional amendment is a few steps ahead of public opinion and leans more to the right.
It cannot be denied that the theory of the threat from North Korea has to a certain degree contributed to the recent right-leaning tendency and the trend favoring the constitutional amendment in Japan. The progress of the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear program will have more than a small effect on the Japanese constitutional amendment.

* The writer is a professor of international relations at Rikkyo University in Japan. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Jong-won
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