• Thu
  • Dec 25, 2014
  • Updated: 3:52pm
My Take
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 February, 2014, 4:22am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 February, 2014, 4:22am

Shinzo Abe's moves on Japan's pacifist constitution deserve greater attention

Anti-China sentiments seem to have blinded many people in Asia, including quite a collection in Hong Kong, to the dangers of nationalistic Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe's attempt to overcome the pacifist provision in his country's constitution. He is contributing not only to a potential arms race in Asia, but also threatening democratic constitutionalism in his own country.

Article 9 of the constitution says: "Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes. (2) To accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognised."

"Forever" seems to be much shorter than what the word usually means. Abe now wants to pass a law that would allow Japan to commit its troops offensively, either by themselves or in concert with allies. The constitution clearly prohibits that, and only allows defensive actions.

To be sure, Japan already has a large and modern military, but its primary posture is one of defence. After years of budget cuts, Abe has moved to boost defence spending and transform its military. But there is a wide consensus among legal experts and the Japanese public that the pacifist article should be changed only through a formal amendment. By trying to push for a new law, he is either circumventing or even subverting the constitutional process.

Abe has countered that if the public don't like his idea, they can always punish him at the next election. He is being disingenuous. Proper constitutionalism requires parliamentary procedures such as securing two-thirds majority support for an amendment, a bar that may be set too high for Abe in this case.

Whether or not you believe Japan should play a bigger military role in Asia and the rest of the world and or that China's military modernisation and recent foreign policy have been too provocative, Abe's unilateralism in rewriting his country's constitution should alarm not only Japan's neighbours, but also its citizens.


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This article is now closed to comments

I agree that constitutional reform should be separate from the electoral fate of any single politician, since the mandate that he/she receives upon being elected or re-elected is not tantamount to carte blanche on rewriting the constitution.
I agree with Mr. Lo that it would be a troubling precedent to alter the constitution legislatively rather than through the proper procedures of constitution amendment.
On a completely separate note, and in no way excusing one with the other, I would wonder how Mr. Lo feels about how the CCP has been doing in upholding the PRC constitution.
Alex Lo is very spot on with this article. Abe is utterly disingenuous with remarks that the public can choose not to re-elect him if they disagree with destroying the current constitution. If the public truly supports the change in constitution, renouncing Article 9, and no longer be a pacifist country, then that should easily pass the two thirds majority vote without the need to subversively circumvent it by dismantling the process.
More importantly, the proposed constitutional change has nothing to do with any external threat. Rather the move is eerily reminiscent of Hitler's rise to power by fear mongering among the general population of a perceived external threat. Because the changes proposed will limit individual freedom and human rights within Japan. An entire article on human rights within the current constitution gets deleted. The proposed change re-elevates the emperor back to head of state and removes the emperor's obligation to uphold the constitution. That in no way has any relevance to taking so called defensive measures against external threats. It is a step towards a policed state and with a party that white washes war atrocities, it is a step towards becoming the infamous Imperial Japan again. It is time the US needs to provide the one year advanced notice on terminating its defense treaty with Japan if it wishes to tread in this dark direction. That's the only way to re-inject stability to the area.


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