HOSTILE ANTI-ABE MEDIA HAMPERING CONSTITUTIONAL REVISION
Addressing the annual convention of the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP) in Tokyo on March 25, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged party members to make every effort to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution. Abe stressed: “The Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) must clearly be written into our constitution so we can put an end to the futile dispute over its unconstitutionality once and for all.”
In the run-up to the convention, the media noted that a marked discord was developing among LDP members over the revision, predicting that Abe would face a grave leadership crisis if senior regional members openly opposed or heckled him.
But that didn’t turn out to be the case. The convention, attracting several thousand LDP members from across Japan, responded favorably to Abe’s appeal. Only a few of those present showed interest in pursuing his responsibility for the current land-sale scandal. (The Finance Ministry is suspected of falsifying public documents relating to the discount sale of government-owned land in Osaka. The school operator who bought the land asserts that his ties to Abe and his wife Akie helped to influence the sale at the lower price.)
Using the scandal as an excuse, the media has been tenaciously engaged in a negative campaign to discredit the Abe administration, as if attacking his leadership is a sacred mission for them. But one can hardly view their negative reports as being well-substantiated.
Recently, a small group of lawmakers from opposition parties—including the Constitutional Democratic Party, the Democratic Party, the Japan Communist Party, the Democratic Party, and others—questioned the school operator about his ties with Mrs. Abe. The school operator has been held at a Justice Ministry detention center in Osaka on fraud charges. Based on that meeting, the opposition lawmakers are now demanding that Mrs. Abe be summoned for questioning at the Diet. But at this time of national crisis, this certainly is not what our politicians should be pursuing.
Our politicians have the critical responsibility of protecting our land and its people. In order to fulfill their duty, they must first and foremost recognize the harsh international environment surrounding Japan, and awaken to and deal effectively with this reality.
The substance of what was asked at last week’s LDP convention was whether our politicians and their parties have the mettle to protect our nation and people from these ongoing threats. If they do, they must seriously grapple with the much-needed revision of our constitution.
A draft of the proposed revision has attracted special attention as a barometer of the LDP’s commitment to revise the constitution, not a single word of which has been changed since it was promulgated in the American-occupied Japan of 1947. The draft features four points for debate: 1) the addition of a specific reference to the JSDF; 2) the addition of a clause defining the grounds for a “national emergency”; 3) the abolition of the integration of constituencies in Upper House elections; and 4) the addition of wording emphasizing the importance of education.
The focal point is an introduction of a new clause in Article 9 while retaining existing clauses 1 and 2. The new clause reads: “(The provisions of the preceding clauses) shall not preclude the implementation of necessary self-defense measures to defend our country’s peace and independence…and for that purpose the Self-Defense Forces…shall be maintained as an armed organization (as provided by law).”
Absent from the draft is a reference to “a minimum necessary (armed organization)” proposed during prior discussions. An attempt to define the JSDF as an “armed forces” was aborted, as Article 9 currently stipulates in part: “…land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained…”
Only National Interests Are Forever
The above draft is far from perfect as a provision for our national security. However, if we were to fail to make even a millimeter of progress by trying to be too idealistic under the harsh present international environment, that would be a matter of the greatest irresponsibility on the part of our politicians. In this vein, Komeito, the centrist junior coalition partner of the LDP, must recognize its responsibility for having failed to proactively support the Abe administration’s efforts for the constitutional revision.
A majority of the opposition parties assert that the party, or parties, responsible for the falsification of the public documents in the land-sale scandal must be pinpointed before discussing any revision of the constitution. With that objective in mind, they arranged for the questioning of the school operator.
But did they ever consider to what extent the operator’s statements are credible? It is extremely irresponsible of them to so dogmatically push on towards manipulating a negative image of the administration, refusing to agree to discussing the critical matter of revising our constitution. They should absolutely refrain from giving priority to the current political crisis over the fundamental issue of constitutional revision, on which the future of Japan depends.
The current pace of change in the global geopolitical landscape is unprecedented and could ultimately affect the balance of power in our region. President Trump has named CIA Director Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State, replacing Rex Tillerson. John Bolton, former Ambassador to the United Nations, is now his National Security Advisor.
These drastic personnel changes point to the possibility that America may now take even more of a hard line policy towards North Korea. This must exert considerable pressure on Kim Jong-un, who obviously is terrified of Trump’s “decapitation operation.” The US government announced it will conduct massive drills to practice evacuating non-combatant Americans from South Korea to time with a scheduled resumption of US-South Korean joint military exercises slated for April 1. There is the possibility that this announcement, too, has added significantly to Jong-un’s fears.
The Trump administration is also taking strong measures economically. On March 22, the administration announced that it would impose retaliatory tariffs of up to US$60 billion on Chinese imports to penalize Beijing for “stealing” intellectual property from American companies. The measure was implemented under Section 301 of the US Trade Act of 1974. Citing security reasons, Trump also invoked new restrictions on the import of steel and aluminum from China the following day. This measure likely will affect Japan as well.
While Japan is significantly dependent on the US for its security, the Trump administration appears poised to impose tariffs on Japan at will, seemingly ready to abandon the Abe administration. In international relations, friendships between heads of state, or even bilateral alliances, cannot be forever. We must resolutely bear in mind that the only thing that is forever in international relations is the national interests of each country.
Owing to the tough military and economic measures the Trump administration has taken, tensions in US-China relations are expected to run high. But one should never ignore the fact that while these major powers may appear to be locking horns with each other on the surface, they never fail to negotiate behind the scenes. In other words, although relations could become tense, their moves are multi-tiered, often resulting in a surprising turn of events.
The Chinese daily Global Times, which reflects official Chinese views, wrote of the prospects of denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula in its March 9 edition: 1) “(…its denuclearization and peace…) are more important than China’s relations with North and South Korea…”; 2) “China’s huge influence on North Korea has ceased”; and 3) China and North Korea only have normal relations…”
Closer US-China Ties Possible Anytime
While the daily stressed that China no longer gives preferential treatment to North Korea, it also stated: “As a major power, it is unnecessary for China to worry about North Korea ‘turning to the US,’ as there will be no one around China that will completely side with the US…(Chinese people) should avoid the mentality that China is being marginalized…”
Does this mean that China is trying to reach out to the US? Isn’t China dropping a hint that, while it envisions the Korean Peninsula continuing to remain under Chinese influence, it also sees the possibility of some joint arrangement with the US? Such a view freshly reminds us of the chance that the two powers could suddenly reach a historic agreement over the peninsula.
Although Trump has slapped tariffs on China under presidential authority, I have no doubt that the US and China have secretly been fostering a dialogue about Korea behind the scenes.
On March 24, Finance Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke by phone to Chinese Vice President Liu He, who is in charge of Xi Jin-ping’s economic policies. Trump strongly wants China to reduce by US$100 billion its surplus in bilateral trade and has suggested that, to do so, China increase its import of US-made automobiles and semiconductors. A matter so specific as this should naturally be assumed to have already been discussed between Washington and Beijing behind closed doors.
A closer relationship between Washington and Beijing could happen almost anytime. What is there for Japan to do if that becomes a reality? It would be impossible for Japan to defend itself on its own under its current security set-up. But only Japan can defend its land and its people when push comes to shove. That is why Japan must do everything it can to reinforce its national defense capabilities while continuing to strengthen its alliance with the US. It is for this purpose that our constitution must be revised as soon as possible.
Japan is today confronted with the North Korean crisis, China’s territorial ambition, and possible changes in America’s stance towards Asia. Over the seven decades that have elapsed since the last war, Japan has blindly turned to the “justice and good faith” of the “peace-loving” international community, as the preamble to our constitution proclaims. We no longer have that luxury. All responsible politicians, political parties, and media outlets must step forward at this historic juncture to change forever the senseless mindset that “one-country pacifism” will continue to work for Japan.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 797 in the April 5, 2018 issue of The Weekly Shincho)