Despite war cries and militant agitation from powerful Japanese politicians, the general population remains almost evenly divided over the constitutional guarantee of a pacifist Japan. That’s according to the latest poll conducted by Kyodo News. The results are virtually unchanged from a similar poll carried out a year ago, despite the Russian invasion of Ukraine and rising tensions across the Taiwan Strait. Meanwhile, it’s worth remembering that short of a coup, the government of Taiwan and the ruling party cannot unilaterally declare independence. Despite all the belligerent rhetoric from Washington and Beijing, and provocative moves from Taipei, there likely needs to be a referendum before any constitutional amendment can be made towards the island’s independence. This is because the very principle of “one China” is enshrined throughout the text of the Taiwanese constitution, which refers to the “Republic of China”, rather than Taiwan. Strong constitutionalism in Taiwan and Japan may yet help save the day and preserve peace. Taiwan lawmakers seek to remove Chinese unity from constitution Japan’s constitution “Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on order, 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. In order 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.” – Article 9 Ahead of Japan’s Constitution Memorial Day on Tuesday, the new poll found that 50 per cent of Japanese aged 18 or older said it was necessary to revise Article 9, while 48 per cent said it was not. A year ago, the respective figures were 51 per cent in favour of an amendment and 45 per cent against. So, despite all the alarmism from many mainstream Japanese politicians and from Western capitals about the threats posed by Russia and China, the general population is unfussed. This is not to mention ongoing missile tests by North Korea. Despite former prime minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “clarification” on the constitutionality of the country’s defence force, many Japanese are still comfortable with the long-standing interpretation of Article 9 that it’s okay to maintain a military for self-defence. Therefore, no amendment is necessary. Any constitutional change requires a two-thirds majority in both the upper and lower houses of the Japanese parliament before a national referendum may be held. But in the same survey, three-quarters (76 per cent) of those interviewed believed Japan had not waged war since the end of the second world war because of Article 9, up 9 percentage points from last year’s poll. Abe’s successor, Fumio Kishida, among others has been trying to take advantage of the war in Ukraine to argue that Japan needs to deal with the new changing security situation in the region. But there is simply no such momentum for change in public opinion. Specifically, the survey found that only 29 per cent felt momentum was increasing or “somewhat increasing” towards revising Article 9 while 70 per cent did not. Taiwan’s constitution Shortly after she won a second term in 2020, thanks in no small part to the anti-government riots in Hong Kong the previous year, Tsai Ing-wen said Taiwan did not need to declare independence because the island was already “an independent country”. That was a cleverly provocative statement, but also completely misleading. It managed to provoke Beijing without offering a casus belli. But in terms of Taiwan’s constitution, her statement makes no sense. Her government and ruling party, the Democratic Progressive Party, cannot unilaterally declare independence any more than the Kuomintang, if it wins back government in the next election, can move to unify with mainland China. The constitution bars any such move, one way or another, unless there are amendments, which must be vetted and voted by elected officials before being put to the Taiwanese electorate, most likely in the form of an island-wide referendum. Of course, a presidential election could also be interpreted as such a referendum, but it’s highly unlikely, at least in the near future, that any viable presidential candidate would risk running on such a platform and provoking a war with the mainland. The likely protracted constitutional amendment process will trigger an immediate response from Beijing, probably with the threat of war. But the point is that outsiders seem to think Taiwan could suddenly declare independence, or that the mainland could launch an invasion without warning. Neither proposition is true. Taiwan’s constitutional constraints favour the status quo, however much Washington and some island secessionists may want change. Of course, it’s possible that with American encouragement, a future secessionist government could try to override the constitution and unilaterally claim formal independence for the island. Such coups, constitutional or otherwise, are not unknown, especially in the history of United States interference in the Caribbean and South America. But that’s highly unlikely to happen in Taiwan, at least for now.