Following Japan’s formation of a national security council, enactment of a ‘secrecy bill’ and weakening of limits on arms exports, under a resolution adopted by the cabinet on Tuesday, Japan has “reinterpreted” its pacifist constitution. Article 9 of the constitution, adopted in 1947, states that “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes”.
The Japanese are still “very attached to the principle of pacifism in the postwar regime”, says Jiro Yamaguchi, a professor of political science at Hosei University, who is among a group of more than 500 scholars opposed to the move. “It is reckless that [Mr Abe] rushed to decide on this very important issue without thorough discussions,” adds Shigeaki Matsuda, a 66 year-old exhibition curator who joined the protest on Tuesday. “There is no democracy here.”
The most recent version of the draft says that Japan would exercise the right to collective self-defence only when “clear dangers” exist to the lives of people in countries “with close ties” to Japan, according to the most recent publicly available draft. Military intervention should be “limited to the minimum amount necessary”, it added.
It goes on to say that Japan will “ensure that its history as a pacifist state will continue” . . .
Pilling notes that the US has tried to persuade Japan to ‘ditch’ pacifism almost from the moment the constitution was enacted: “After war broke out on the Korean peninsula, the US decided it did not want a toothless ally. . . US defence secretary Chuck Hagel has endorsed Japan’s new stance, welcoming the efforts by the most important US ally in the region to “play a more proactive role” in stability in East Asia.”
Supporters of the current constitution demonstrated outside the Japanese prime minister’s official residence in Tokyo on Monday evening. Photograph: Shizuo Kambayashi/AP
However, since the prime minister started public briefings on the move last month, his cabinet’s approval rating has dropped to 45%, the lowest rating since it was formed in December 2012.
On Tuesday, anti-war demonstrators gathered outside the prime minister’s residence in Tokyo for a second successive evening of protests – and three thousand gathered in a Tokyo park (below).
A poll published by the Nikkei business newspaper on Monday 30th found that 50% of voters were against Abe’s ‘reinterpretation’ of the pacifist constitution, while 34% supported the change. Channel News (Asia) reports that the liberal Asahi Shimbun, on the other hand, held a poll of more than 2,000 adults nationwide showing that 63% oppose the concept of collective defence, up from 56% last year, with 29% supporting the idea.
The results were released a day after an unidentified man set himself alight in central Tokyo and remains in a serious condition in hospital. After shouting opposition to Abe’s proposals through a megaphone in front of hundreds of people for about an hour, while perched on a girder above a footbridge outside Shinjuku Station, he poured flammable liquid on himself and lit it – videoed by many onlookers and circulated widely in social media.
“Mr Abe appears to suggest Japan could help smaller countries, such as the Philippines, to protect their territorial interests against China. That may be comforting to Manila and Hanoi but could be incendiary to Beijing. It is hard to deny Japan’s right to a more normal defence posture. That does not mean we have to celebrate it”.
Makiko Matsuda, a 67-year-old housewife, comments: “Abe keeps saying that he is doing this to protect Japanese people in a critical situation. But soldiers might die, which is contradictory. I don’t see how this can create a more peaceful solution”.