JAPAN NEEDS EARLY CONSTITUTIONAL REVISION AND TPP RATIFICATION
“What kind of constitution should Japan have, and what kind of nation should we strive to be?” asked Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “It is up to the people of Japan—not the government—to provide the answer. The role of we lawmakers is to provide ideas to help them make up their minds.”
So remarked Abe on September 26 in his opening address at an extraordinary Diet session. Abe emphasized that early ratification of the TPP (Trans-pacific Partnership) trade agreement “will be a big chance” to boost Japan’s anemic economic growth.
Abe is at the helm of the ruling coalition between the Liberal-Democratic and Komeito Parties, which for the first time in post-war years won a majority in both Diet chambers, making it theoretically possible to pass a constitutional revision. However, Abe candidly discussed the tough problems that the coalition, and Japan itself, face. He explained that Japan needs an effective strategy for early ratification of the TPP and a revision of the present constitution written by the US occupiers of Japan in 1946. These goals cannot be attained without strong leadership and solid support from the people, Abe stated, and it is not the government but the people that must make the decision.
To what extent can the people’s choices affect the fate of democratic nations? The answer is obvious in light of the “Brexit” decision made by Britons, or the results of the past US presidential elections. In the US, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are locking horns, but none of their assertions chart America’s long-term strategy of how to cope with a rising China and an emerging world the next administration must deal with.
The entire world is caught in the middle of a fierce clash between one camp that honors democracy and international law and another that denies them. Against such a backdrop, America’s responsibilities as a world leader are immense. But both presidential candidates view the TPP negatively. This factor alone raises serious questions if either Clinton or Trump can be trusted with America’s world strategy.
Today’s America makes one wonder if it might prefer to abandon its role of stabilizing world order—despite the fact that it still is well equipped for such a role. If so, China seems eager to take over world leadership while America is resigned to play second fiddle in the international arena. One must note, however, that the American people selected such candidates.
New World Order
As the world situation changes rapidly, we must evaluate how these changes may affect Japan.
Abe noted in his address: “We must never stop thinking.” I interpret his remarks as a message that Japan’s fate is absolutely linked to the international situation; and recognizing the security threats today’s Japan faces inevitably leads us to understand why our constitution must be revised.
However, Ms. Renho Murata, the new head of the leading opposition Minshin-To (Democratic Party of Japan), brushed aside Abe’s policy address as “conveying nothing of significance, intended only to please everybody.” Did Abe really say nothing significant?
While in power for three years (2009-2012), the previous incarnation of the Democratic Party (DPJ) had two consecutive prime ministers—Naoto Kan and Yoshihiko Noda—who favored the TPP. Obviously, as top leaders they scrutinized our national interests and saw the TPP as vital. As opposition leaders now, they fiercely oppose it.
The LDP then in opposition likewise opposed the TPP. But Abe decided to support the TPP as soon as the coalition returned to power in 2012. The TPP reached final agreement last February after seven years of tough negotiations. Abe’s administration is now eager to get the Diet to ratify the agreement as early as possible.
As these developments demonstrate, both the LDP and the DPJ supported the TPP when as ruling parties they were entrusted with our national interests. Their actions must reflect the realization that, with China out to create a new world order based on totally different values, Japan can get into hot water unless it joins hands with the US and works with nations sharing similar values, especially rule of law.
Having once been in power—albeit just three years and three months—the DPJ knows what it means to be the ruling party. Here the DPJ is significantly different from minor opposition parties, such as the Communists and Social Democratics who have no governing responsibilities. The DPJ as the leading opposition party must refrain from opposing the government merely for opposition’s sake, and be a party that fulfills its responsibilities.
Unfortunately, the DPJ opposes the TPP. Citing a recent incident in which a major Japanese trading company admitted having for years padded the prices of imported rice before selling it to the government under the so-called SBS (simultaneous buy and sell) system, the party argues that cheap American rice will flow into Japan under TPP. The LDP maintains that TPP retains Japan’s whopping 788% tariff on imported rice (approximately US$3.00 per kilo on average)—an arrangement that will enable Japanese rice to remain competitive under the new framework.
The TPP is an essential part of the government’s “Abenomics” economic policy, which faces nitty-gritty issues, such as rice prices. The importance of a US-Japan initiative in creating a new international framework based on transparent rules cannot be overstated. It is especially pertinent when China is vigorously trying to create a Sinocentric world by inaugurating new international frameworks such as the AIIB (Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank).
Since joining the WTO (World Trade Organization) in 2001, China has benefited perhaps more than any other nation from membership while frequently ignoring its rules and regulations. Now China has become a major part of a global effort to create dubious organizations, with a host of nations signing up without fully understanding their import. That is why the US and Japan have been cooperating to create fairer and better frameworks for nations on both sides of the Pacific. The TPP is one such framework.
I firmly believe that any politician or political party that fails to strategically view the importance of the TPP to the entire Asia-Pacific region does not qualify to take the helm of the country. Thus I view both Clinton and Trump negatively. (President Hillary, to be sure, might well tweak and rename the TPP to get it passed. )
Does the DPJ consider national interests in opposing a constitutional revision? Renho reiterated her party’s opposition September 15, claiming that the government is “trying too impetuously to put various arguments in order.” There is nothing “impetuous” about the government’s posture.
Responsible for Nation and People
China claims Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea despite strong opposition and protest from the international community. If the Chinese take over this Filipino fishing ground, they will fortify it and establish an ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone), thus fully controlling the South China Sea. President Rodrigo Duterte, a Filipino Donald Trump, blusters that he can get a deal from China in exchange for Filipino neutrality, a most dangerous game.
Armed China Coast Guard vessels and Navy warships frequently violate Japanese territorial waters in the East China Sea. PLA (People’s Liberation Army) jets engage in provocative actions against Japanese Self-Defense Forces jets that face them near Japanese air space. A “gray zone”—between peacetime and wartime—has evolved in the air space over the East China Sea.
Japan has no legislation to cope effectively with this situation. A new security legislation recognizing Japan’s right to collective self-defense that was enacted last March failed to cover this matter.
Japan’s current security system is riddled with flaws. The US, which previously helped plug this gap, is becoming increasingly inward-looking. Japan must enhance its security capabilities to cope with the new situation. In view of the actual crisis Japan faces, denouncing the security legislation as “war legislation” or attempting to delay a revision of the constitution drives Japan into a defenseless corner.
The DPJ and LDP, both of which have sought constitutional revisions, must fulfill their responsibilities to defend the nation and its people. I believe that the prime minister, who concluded his policy address with a reference to constitutional revision, is fully aware of the historic responsibilities he and his party must shoulder.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 723 in the September 28, 2016 issue of The Weekly Shincho)