Japan’s military posture faces resistance at home

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Japan’s military posture faces resistance at home

One year has passed since the cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced an unconventional interpretation of Japan’s pacifist Constitution to enable the country’s right to collective self-defense, while its parliament has at the same time worked to revise the national security law amid domestic scrutiny.

On July 1, 2014, Abe’s cabinet announced its decision to interpret its post-war Constitution in an unprecedented reading to be able to exercise collective self-defense, which would allow its Self-Defense Forces to come to the aid of a close foreign ally.

The initial decision and what sort of impact it may have on regional stability has been cautiously monitored by neighboring countries, including China and Korea, particularly considering the right-wing Abe administration’s tendencies toward historical revisionism. But the move toward collective self-defense also has been met with wariness domestically among scholars, lawmakers, activists and even Nobel laureates.

A civilian organization, the Anti-War Committee of 1,000, gathered over 1.65 million signatures for its statement opposing collective self-defense, which it sent to Prime Minister Abe on Monday. A number of large-scale protests involving thousands of activists have also taken place in recent weeks outside Japan’s National Diet.

Earlier this month, a group of more than 60 scholars in Japan, including Nobel laureate Toshihide Maskawa, a professor emeritus of physics at Kyoto University, issued a joint statement opposing the new security legislation that the parliament is currently discussing.

The scholars said in the statement, supported by some 4,500 people, that, “Based on the deep remorse over our country sending students to the war of aggression” referring to World War II, “we will never allow the government to dispatch young people to a battlefield again.”

After some leeway in interpreting its pacifist Constitution, Japan is still left to approve a series of revised defense bills, which it hopes to pass through the Diet in August.

Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party is pushing for a legislation package that would revise existing law to enable Japan to engage in collective self-defense, expanding the scope of its Self-Defense Forces overseas.

The bills would change Japan’s postwar defense posture under the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9, which stipulates: “The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.”

But domestic surveys also show that Japanese citizens are still wary of the concept of collective self-defense and the revisions of the defense bills required to enable it legally.

In a survey released Monday that was conducted by the Nihon Keizai Shimbun and TV Tokyo from Friday to Sunday, Abe Cabinet’s approval rating stood at 47 percent, down 3 percent from the previous month. When he first took office, his approval ratings peaked at 76 percent in early 2013.

The issue of revising bills that would legally enable Abe’s vision of a Japan that can exercise its right to collective self-defense - something he has pushed for since his first term as prime minister - is one of the key factors in the decline in approval ratings.

According to the survey, 57 percent of respondents were opposed to the revisionary security bills, while 25 percent approved them. The survey also showed that 56 percent were opposed to Japan exercising its right to collective self-defense, while 26 percent approved, which again reflected low domestic popularity toward enabling the country’s right to wage war in pushing through legislative revisions.

BY SARAH KIM, OH YOUNG-HWAN [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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