ABE MUST REVIEW ONGOING STRATEGY TO REVISE CONSTITUTION
Given the grave international threats Japan faces on all sides, there was an amazing lack of debate and sense of urgency concerning our national security in the run-up to the July 21 upper house elections.
In addition to North Korea, which still refuses to give up its nuclear weapons and missile program, Japan faces a hostile China determined to control the Senkaku Islands and Taiwan. On June 18, the very day Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Teheran conferring with Iranian leaders about their strained relations with the US, a Japanese tanker was attacked in the Strait of Hormuz. And now, the US is sounding out Japan about its participation in an international coalition to safeguard the Strait of Hormuz. Meanwhile, Donald Trump reportedly has voiced his doubts about the wisdom of America maintaining its security treaty with Japan, calling it unfair to the US. Each of these developments threatens the “sheltered peace” that postwar Japan has enjoyed under the terms of the US-Japan Security Treaty.
Should the US be reluctant, who will defend Japan and how? This is the basic question we Japanese must all seriously ponder today. It was very natural that Abe as president of the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP) listed a revision of Japan’s “pacifist” constitution as the main pillar of his party’s election pledges. Frankly, however, I am of the opinion that Abe should have stressed more strongly why he placed this issue before the public in light of the current threats we face.
Throughout the campaign, however, Natsuo Yamaguchi, head of the LDP’s junior coalition partner Komeito Party, kept pouring cold water on Abe’s plans for a constitutional revision, claiming that “the time is not yet ripe for such action.” Yamaguchi asserted that the general public do not regard a revision of the constitution as the most important issue for today’s Japan. But what is a politician for, if he refuses to debate a critical issue by turning a blind eye to the situation, claiming that the public isn’t interested?
Yamaguchi touted his party’s “ability to listen to small voices.” But if, as he claims, the time is “not yet ripe” for full-fledged deliberations of a constitutional revision because the voices advocating a revision remain small, isn’t it the important duty of his party to heed such voices?
In the same way as the coalition partners are ridden with serious headaches, the opposition parties have their own share of ugly problems. Four major opposition parties—the Constitutional Democrats (CDP), the National Democrats (NDP), the Social Democrats (SDP), and the Communists (JCP)—fielded their joint candidates in all of the 32 single-seat constituencies this time, although they differ significantly in terms of their interest in and posture towards the constitution and the Imperial Family, among other things. While the JCP and the DCP are adamant about securing Article 9 of the constitution (the so-called “no war” article), the CDP refuses to even discuss it as long as the Abe administration is in power, with the NDP willing to deliberate the topic at the Diet. In other words, the opposition forces are all over the map when it comes to a constitutional revision.
Politicians Without Principles
One wonders which policies a joint candidate will follow when things come to a crunch, having been fielded by parties so widely divided on the critical issue of the constitution, which forms the very basis of Japan’s statehood and politics.
Frankly speaking, we have seen too many unprincipled lawmakers around us. Take Yukio Edano for instance—head of the leading opposition CDP. In 2013, Edano introduced a private plan for a constitutional revision in the October issue of the prestigious Bungei Shunju monthly, but then later took the exact opposite direction, opposing any revision. Despite his opposition to the peace and security bill of 2015, Edano attempted to seek shelter under the Tokyoites First Party led by the then powerful Tokyo governor Ms Yuriko Koike, who demanded that Edano consent to the law if he wanted to join the party. Rejected by Koike, Edano has since been pushing for repeal of the law.
Such an about-face may go unchallenged in Japan, where abstract idealism still prevails sometimes, but it can hardly be accepted in the international community, where cold hard reality prevails. During the Heisei Era (1989-April 2019), which began with the Tiananmen incident and the fall of the Berlin Wall, world order was maintained with the US still committed to functioning as the only superpower. This enabled many Japanese to turn a blind eye to the harsh reality of international relations and be complacent in a fanciful world of lasting peace and stability.
Two months into the new era of Reiwa, however, the US is set to renounce its role as the world’s policeman, urging nations, including its allies, to resolve their problems on their own.
Not only that. Trump has recently been quoted as expressing his simple doubts about the wisdom of maintaining the US-Japan Security Treaty after decades of America overseeing the peace and security of Japan, as mentioned earlier. On at least three occasions between June 24 and 29, Trump remarked how unfair the treaty is to the US, even hinting at possibly scrapping it.
The US has simultaneously been calling on Japan and a dozen other countries to join a coalition designed to contribute to the security of the Strait of Hormuz by having them protect their oil tankers on their own. As of this writing on July 22, the day after the upper house election, Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton is in Japan to relay Washington’s thinking regarding the coalition and other pertinent matters, such as North Korea.
The proposed coalition differs fundamentally from one formed around the US in 2003 to attack Iraq. Its mission will strictly be to guarantee the safety of the navigation of the oil tankers of member nations and the security of the waters in the Middle East. Japan depends on the Middle East for 87% of oil it imports annually, much of which passes through the Strait of Hormuz. Because the Japanese government must naturally protect Japanese tankers and their crew to ultimately safeguard the Japanese economy, it must speed up an introduction of new legislation concerning a dispatch of its self-defense forces. It is simply out of the question to turn to other nations for support with the weak excuse that Japan’s constitution does not allow it to join the projected coalition.
Such being the ongoing reality of today’s world, it is imperative that all Japanese earnestly put our heads together to examine issues relating to our security and a revision of our constitution. Abe is deeply committed to revising the constitution because he genuinely cares about Japan’s security and the lives of the people. And yet members of the junior coalition Komeito Party are disappointingly reluctant to back him.
Key to Prod Komeito into Action
How should Japan defend itself? How should Japan go about revising its constitution and implementing a much-needed political reform? Abe’s ruling party must significantly change its strategy to achieve its goal. In the recent election, the ruling coalition won a combined 71 seats (57 for the LDP and 14 for Komeito) for a total of 141 seats, including those that were not up for grabs this time. Even adding the 16 seats held by the Japan Innovation Party (JIP), which is for a constitutional revision, the coalition would still be at least 7 seats short of the supermajority (two-thirds, or 164, of the 245 upper house seats) required to launch a bid to revise the constitution.
The LDP desperately needs more members from other parties to join in their effort to revise the constitution. No matter how you look at it, even Komeito’s Yamaguchi is less than positive about an early revision. Commented Fumito Ishibashi, former head of the political section of the conservative daily Sankei Shimbun:
“I think it is wrong for the LDP to cling to the old formula of viewing Komeito and the JIP as its only allies to revise the constitution. Of course, the JCP, the CDP, and the DSP must be excluded by all means, but the LDP should switch to a new strategy enabling it to work in partnership with members of other parties in an effort to create forces favoring the revision. This method, I believe, would likely create a greater possibility of revising the constitution than trying to steadfastly win a two-third ‘supermajority’ between the two coalition partners alone.”
In the 245-seat upper house today, the LDP accounts for 113 seats, the NDP 21, and the JIP 16. If the LDP managed to attract the three pro-government independents, altogether 153 seats would be secured without counting on Komeito. This is an optimistic number, as it would be nearly impossible to expect all of the NDP members to cooperate. But the important thing for the LDP is to turn its attention to parties other than Komeito. It is important for the LDP to take concrete action, as it will send a message to Komeito loud and clear that the LDP doesn’t regard it as its only partner to team up with. I have no doubt such action would be the telling key to prod Komeito into closer cooperation with the LDP.
During a press interview immediately following the election, Abe said he was “eager to accomplish a revision of the constitution in 2020.” Asked by Takayuki Kasuya, chief Nippon TV commentator, if this meant that he planned to enact a revised constitution next year, Abe said: “That’s right.”
In a front-page article of the Sankei dated July 22, Ms Mie Sasaki, head of the daily’s political section, reported that Abe had conferred with Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso at his Tomigaya residence in Tokyo the day before. Sasaki quoted Abe as telling Aso that he is “determined to implement a constitutional revision in 2020,” reporting that the two leaders agreed that “the next 12 months will determine the fate of this nation.”
I firmly believe Abe’s resolve reflects the harsh state of the world he has observed as a proponent of his “proactive” diplomacy. I wholeheartedly value his resolve. (The End)
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 862 in the August 1, 2019 issue of The Weekly Shincho)