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Japan Diary

October 26, 2017

Does Shinzo Abe Intend to Resurrect the Militarist Japan? Not quite

Five days have passed since the general election in Japan. On Monday it drew the attention of the world media, but by now it was quickly forgotten. An ill-checked understanding that Shinzo Abe has now got a free hand in amending the pacifist Constitution and make Japan militarist again firmly sits in people's mind.
That is an unhappy misunderstanding. Abe's Japan will be able to bring many positive contributions to the world. Let's break stereotypes and find real facts.

Does Shinzo Abe Intend to Resurrect the Militarist Japan?
Not quite

On October 22nd a snap election for the Lower House (it has more seats and power than the Upper House) was held, and the ruling coalition managed to hold the two-thirds majority in the House, a sufficient number to initiate an amendment to the Constitution. This victory made it more certain that prime-minister Shinzo Abe be reelected as party (Liberal-Democratic Party) chief in the party congress scheduled for next September, and it means that he can go on as prime minister until 2021.

Why election now and how Abe won

The reason for the unexpected election (the Lower House had another one year of term) is simple. Firstly, Mr. Abe wanted to regain momentum for his government after he got smeared in one wrong-doing (his friends acquired licenses for opening schools in a privileged way), and his lack of apology immediately lowered his rating.

Secondly, Mr. Abe saw at that time that the opposition parties were least prepared for an election, politically and financially. The largest opposition party, Progressive Democratic Party, was weakened by intra-party fighting, and the new up-and-coming Party of Hope under the flamboyant Tokyo populist governor, Ms. Yuriko Koike, fizzled in the early stage, partly because of Ms. Koike's arrogant remarks and partly for the lack of funding (Party of Hope was haphazardly formed one month before the election).

Shinzo Abe's calculation turned out to be right. Most voters could not find a less evil than the incumbent government. And (though only few point out) the economy is in a good shape, almost over-heated. The unemployment rate stands at less than 3 percent, and a substantial increase of exports gives a lift to the entire economy. Supermarkets are full of shoppers and even traffic jam, which used to be notorious some 30 years ago, has partly come back.

The media abroad allege in one voice that Mr. Abe fanned the national fear of the North Korean missiles to get support, but living in peaceful Tokyo suburbs, I for one did not feel the threat. There is an anxiety about it, but not to the degree of a panic. Most Japanese are aware that North Korea is not directing its missiles to Japan, yet.

Is Mr. Abe one of the neo-nazi or alt-right, because he wants to amend the Constitution?

For the time being Mr. Abe will take a low-profile posture, mostly addressing economic and social issues, because he is aware that people are still dubious about Mr. Abe's personal cleanness, and that the ruling coalition gained people's credit only due to economic prosperity and not because of the missiles.

However, the process for bringing an amendment to the Constitution will solemnly be started. The main contention is about the famous "ninth article of the Constitution", which says:

"Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and 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 recognized."

Even in my eyes this is too rigorous and clearly intends to totally disarm Japan (the first draft of this was written by the occupation forces of the US). This should be amended so that the right of self-defense and possession of the Self-Defense Forces be explicitly admitted. This does not lead to insurrection of the pre-war imperialist and aggressive army; Japan simply needs adequate forces to guard its own dignity, territory and, what is more, the freedom and democracy which we now enjoy.

There are people who are afraid that their sons be drafted to the army, if the Constitution is amended, but today's armed forces, which are highly technically equipped, do not need inexperienced new draftees. Japan's Self Defense Forces, sizable armed forces, should be explicitly mentioned and regulated by the Constitution. That will give a firm legal basis for the civil control (so far prime minister is the commander-in-chief only by law and not by the Constitution).

Does Mr. Abe aim for a more self-assertive Japan, challenging US interests?

Will the more sovereignty-minded Japan, which Mr. Abe aims for, go against US interests? Not quite. As President Trump and many Americans want it, Mr. Abe intends to let Japan make more efforts to realize its own security. And even then the US armed forces will be needed as deterrence. There is no need to worry that Japan will drift away and defy the US.

The majority of the Japanese are committed to the notion of progress prompted by economic development. Japan will join forces with developed nations, including today's China, in the efforts to realize development and progress in the world. Unfair inequalities, the hotbed for instability and terrorism, can be lessened only through economic development.


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