Is Pacificism On The Decline In Japan?
The improving economic situation in Japan will likely result in the reelection of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. However, some analysts are raising concerns that Abe’s plans to amend the pacifist constitution will lead to a much more nationalist Japan, which could destabilize the region. In addition, Abe recently restated Japan’s claim to disputed islands in the East China Sea could stoke already tense relations with China.
Plans To Amend Constitution Concern China, South Korea
Abe has expressed a desire to weaken Article 9 of the Constitution, which foreswears the use of force.
“He has already upset both since taking office in December by saying he wants to revise Japan’s landmark 1995 apology for its wartime aggression and questioning the extent to which Korean, Chinese and other Asian women were coerced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers.
“A further deterioration in relations with China and South Korea would be worrisome for the United States as it seeks to engage more deeply in the Asia-Pacific region. To the extent that nationalism translates into a stronger military, though, some would welcome that as a counter to rising Chinese power,” write Malcolm Foster and Mari Yamaguchi.
Lawrence Repeta, a law professor at Tokyo’s Meiji University, said in an interview with Foreign Policy that the proposed revisions, if adopted, “would create a Japan we don’t know.”
“What the nationalists want is to take Japan back to some utopian vision of the 1930s that never really existed,” says Repeta.
Constitutional Changes Face A High Hurdle
But Ben Ascione of the East Asian Forum notes that attempts to amend the constitution will be constrained by legislative realities.
“A simple majority in a national referendum to amend Article 9 is likely to prove tough unless the public loses faith in the credibility of the US–Japan alliance vis-à-vis China and North Korea. At present public sentiment toward the US is strong,” he contends.
Nonetheless, Ascione cautions, the rhetoric and symbolic actions of the Abe administration, even if not altering the substance of the day-to-day operations of the SDF, might be “perceived in Beijing and Seoul to have real negative effects in Japan’s relations with these key neighbors.”