September 13, 2015

Japan: Rewriting the Pacifist Constitution

Yohannan Chemarapally

IN the third week of July, the conservative government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, took another decisive step towards abandoning the post war pacifist Constitution of Japan. Using the brute majority in the lower house of the parliament, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) passed a raft of laws that will allow the deployment of Japanese troops on foreign soil. The government has sought to justify its move on the basis of the “collective security” agreement it has with the United States and a few other countries. In April this year, Prime Minister Abe signed an agreement with the American President Barack Obama which will allow the participation of Japanese troops in joint military action on foreign soil. Japan and China are currently involved in an acrimonious territorial dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Island situated near to the Chinese coastline. Prime Minister Abe, speaking after the passage of the laws, said that the security situation around the country was getting tougher and that the laws were “vital to protect the lives of Japanese people and prevent war”. Since returning to power in 2013, Abe has been focusing his energies towards the rewriting of the Japanese Constitution and the revival of Japan's military power. His government has not taken kindly to the rise of China as a global power. Relations between the two countries have gone steadily downhill since he has taken over. Abe has been visiting many Asian capitals, including Delhi, in his ongoing efforts to build an anti-China military coalition, with the avid backing of Washington. At the G-7 summit in June, Abe played a key role in including a clause in the communique that was critical of China's activities in the South China Sea. MILITARY BUILD-UP With the Obama administration's “pivot to the East” policy, Washington is encouraging its close allies like Japan to collaborate with it in the military build-up being witnessed in the region. China has been alleging that Washington has been busy trying to strengthen its military alliance in the region to ratchet up pressure in the South China Sea where it is involved in territorial disputes with other countries. In recent months, Japanese spy planes have been flying near territory claimed by China, mirroring similar actions undertaken by the US air force since the beginning of the year. In July, the commander of the Japanese Navy, Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano, on a visit to Washington in July, said that there were discussions about deploying Japanese ships to patrol the South China Sea. Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution pledges that the country will never wage war and for that matter prohibits the maintenance land, sea and air forces that are capable of waging war. But Article 9 after having been put on the back burner by the Abe government now seems to be on the verge of being formally scrapped. The proof is in the pudding. Japanese military spending in the next five year will be exceeding $232 billion. On the shopping list are anti-missile destroyers, submarines and US fighter planes. Japan is beefing up security relations with Australia, Vietnam, the Philippines and India. Japan has been keen to draw India into its web of military alliances. The last multilateral military exercises involving Japan, the US, Australia, Singapore and India were held eight years ago. China at the time had conveyed its strong displeasure to India for participating in what it considers as blatant military muscle flexing against it in the Indian Ocean region. Now there are reports that India is once again preparing to participate in trilateral “Malabar” naval exercises later in the year in the Bay of Bengal, involving the navies of India, Japan and the US. Washington has quietly welcomed the Abe government's latest moves. The spokesman for the US State Department said that Washington welcomes Tokyo's “ongoing efforts to strengthen the alliance and play a more active role in regional and international security activities”. In April last year, Abe had set up 2020 as the target date to transform Japan into a leading military power. He has promised a whole sale revision of Japanese constitution by the time the Olympic Games are held in the country that year. “By 2020, I think Japan will have completely restored its status and been making great contributions to peace and stability in the region and the world”, he had pledged last year. The new laws were passed despite strong protests from the opposition benches. Unruly scenes were witnessed in parliament as the government steamrolled the bills through the security committee of the lower house. The parliament has been debating the bills for several months. There has been some dissent within the LDP too. A former LDP secretary general, Makoto Kaga, had in a public lecture said that changing constitutional interpretation through a cabinet decision is a patchwork measure. “...One mistake and we could be involved in a war”, he had warned. STRONG PROTESTS The passing of the 11 bills in July were also met with strong protests outside parliament. More than 100,000 people protested outside the parliament building after the laws were pushed through. They carried placards and banners with slogans calling for the “scrapping of the war bills” and “Stop Abe's recklessness”. Constitutional scholars have testified in parliament saying that the recently passed laws violate the existing Constitution. According to reports in the Japanese media, 90 percent of constitutional experts view the laws as a clear violation of the Pacifist Constitution. Abe's government has also passed tough laws to curb the media. Prominent media personalities writing in papers or appearing on television have been sidelined by their employers because of the pacifist views. Opinion polls conducted in July showed that more than 80 percent of the Japanese public remain opposed to the Abe government's tinkering with the pacifist constitution of the country. An opinion survey conducted by Kyodo, Japan's national news agency in the third week of July, put the government's popularity at 37 percent, the lowest since the government was elected in 2012. The new laws are expected to be comfortably passed in the upper house where the LDP and its allies enjoy a comfortable majority. Katsuya Okada, the leader of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the main opposition party, warned his countrymen about the dangers posed by the new laws. “It is a mistake to set aside constitutional interpretations built up by government over a period of seventy years without sufficient public understanding and debate”, he said. The opposition had boycotted the vote in parliament and has vowed to keep on protesting in the streets. The DPJ, to some extent has been responsible for the rise in military tensions in the region. It was the DPJ government that took the unprecedented step of “nationaliSing” the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and raising the ante in the stand-off with China. There are indications that the protests could snowball and the take the form of nationwide protests that had occurred during the time of Prime Minister Nobuseke Kishi in 1960. Kishi, who was prime minister at the time was the grandfather of the current incumbent. The huge protests against the US-Japan security treaty that Kishi had initialed had rocked Tokyo and other cities in 1960. The protests forced Kishi to leave office but Japan became deeply embedded militarily with the United States. Kishi however could not fulfill his cherished dream of overhauling Japan's pacifist constitution. His grandson seems well on his way in doing so. Kishi was imprisoned briefly by the American occupation forces for alleged war crimes committed in China during Second World War. Japanese opposition leaders fear that Abe's policies could lead the country into another military adventure with devastating consequences. The Japanese nation has not yet forgotten the consequences of Second World War. But Abe refuses to acknowledge the lessons of history. For that matter, he has been in the forefront of the right wing's move to rewrite school history text books. He has been reluctant to acknowledge the horrific war crimes committed by the Japanese Imperial Army in Asia during the war. To the chagrin of even Japan's military allies like South Korea, the Japanese prime minister has frequently visited the Yasukuni shrine, where the ashes of some of Japan's most notorious war criminals are interred. Acclaimed Japanese film maker, Hayao Miyazaki, has been among prominent intellectuals speaking out against Abe's militaristic moves. “Prime Minister Abe seems to want to be remembered in history as the man who revised the constitution and remilitarised Japan. That is despicable”, the veteran film maker and internationally acclaimed animator told journalists. A spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry speaking after the passing of the militaristic laws in Japan's lower house, declared that it was fully justified to ask whether Japan was giving up its “defense oriented policies”. China will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Chinese territory from Japanese occupation forces. Many Japanese have called on the Abe government to issue a formal apology for the widespread atrocities and pogroms the Imperial Army committed in China. “We solemnly urge the Japanese side to draw hard lessons from history – and refrain from jeopardising China's sovereignty and security interests or crippling regional peace and security”, the spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry demanded.