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Foreign Policy

Attempt to Uproot the ‘Pacifist’ Principle in Abe’s Constitutional Revisions

Feb 28, 2014
  • Lu Yaodong

    Researcher, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s attempt for constitutional revisions is primarily meant to amend Article 9 of the Constitution, and he is determined to make it. The Constitution of Japan, an outcome of Japan’s unconditional surrender during the World War II, defines three major guiding principles – sovereignty lying with the people, fundamental human rights and pacifism. At the core is pacifism, as it is reflected in Article 9 of Chapter II of the Constitution. Article 9 states: “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.” 

This Constitution, just because of Article 9, is called the “pacifist constitution” which restricts militarism and upholds the road of peaceful development. It is this constitutional guarantee that uproots the possibility of a resurgence of militarism in Japan forever. 

The international and Japanese media have all realized the ultimate goal of Abe’s attempt to revise the Constitution – to amend Article 9 of the Constitution, which renounces war, forfeits ability to maintain land, sea and air forces and denies it of the right of belligerency, and eventually to exterminate the “pacifism” spirit. Abe’s determination for constitutional revisions is countered with opposition from public opinions, and the key to this difference is whether or not Japan will abandon “pacifism” – its historical “pledge.” Makoto Koga, former secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party, said in an interview with the Shimbun Akahata that this pacifist principle is the foundation of the current Japanese Constitution and is “a world heritage.” Makoto Koga’s view is to defend the foundation of the “pacifist constitution,” and also to emphasize the historical origin of the pacifist principle of the Japanese Constitution. 

After WWII, the US forces stationed in Japan remodeled and rebuilt the defeated Japan in a “democratic” manner – rooting out the Japanese militarist forces, abrogating the emperor’s autocratic system, and drafting the “pacifist constitution” for Japan. Abe argued that constitutional revisions are Japan’s internal affairs, but a historical fact should not be denied – that is, the pacifist constitution was drafted under the leadership of the United States, a victorious country in WWII, and was intended to eliminate Japanese militarism. 

The “pacifist constitution” is not only widely praised in Asia and the world; it is also accepted by the Japanese people and has played an irreplaceable role in Japan’s economic rise. The Japanese right-wing forces and conservatives, however, regard it as the biggest obstacle for them in their attempts to deny Japan’s aggression history during the WWII. Since the promulgation of the peaceful constitution in 1947, the Japanese conservatives and nationalistic elements have never ceased their attempts to revise the Constitution, mainly Article 9. Japan’s ruling party – the Liberal Democratic Party – has always desired to “draft an autonomous constitution” and have pursued it as one of the principles for the formation of the party. It considers making an autonomous constitution as one of the values for the existence of the LDP. Therefore, “constitutional revision” has become the predestination of the LDP. The “draft constitution” released by the LDP indicates that Article 9 of the Constitution on renunciation of war and the right of belligerency will be revised so as to achieve the goal of making an autonomous constitution, a goal pursued by the LDP since its formation. 

Abe has been an advocate for revising the pacifist constitution in an attempt to get rid of the image as a defeated country, and to make Japan a “truly sovereign state” and as well as a “country with self confidence.” For this purpose, Japan has been instigating frequent disputes with neighbors, which has led to deterioration in relations with neighboring countries and caused damages to regional stability and development. For the conservatives, the most desirable excuse in seeking constitutional changes is to instigate geopolitical conflicts in the Northeast Asian region. And they, using the excuse of “threat from neighboring countries,” could achieve their ambitious goals of unshackling the restrictions of the pacifist constitution and seeking to become a big military power. Abe intentionally fabricated “enemies” in Asia and exaggerated frictions and disputes with neighboring countries by using “islands disputes” to shirk blame onto China, South Korea and Russia, as well as played up the North Korea nuclear crisis in a move to “unshackle Japan from the post-war system.” The conservatives in the LDP, citing islands disputes with China and South Korea, even called for changes in the constitutional interpretation, as well as the change of the Self Defense Forces into the national defense forces. This meant that the LDP, together with right-wing parties such as Japan Restoration Party, could break the shackles of the pacifist constitution, and materialize their slogans for constitutional revisions – changing the status of the Self Defense Forces into the national defense forces. 

Abe’s erratic remarks that Japan does not need to explain the constitutional revisions to China and South Korea show Japan’s abnormal move to “unshackle from the post-war system.” It is natural that it would arouse vigilance and concern from Asian countries, including China and South Korea. Abe and the conservatives, by the means of distorting history and pushing forward the “nationalistic spirit,” are trying to make Japan a so-called “normal country” by “unshackling it from the post-war system.” On the issue of constitutional revisions, Abe shows a political stance that is tougher than politicians who were born before that war. In the eyes of Abe, “constitutional revisions” hold the key to making Japan a “normal country” and achieving the goal of making Japan a big political and military country. Such a “political pursuit” is meant to restore some of the state rights and power in dealing with foreign countries that were “lost” due to its invasion of China and South Korea during the WWII. Further, they wish to rescind the “enemy clause” in the United Nations Charter, and to eventually make Japan a “normal country” with national defense forces and the right of belligerency. The erroneous attitude towards history harbored by people like Abe will cast further doubts about Japan’s constitutional amendments among Asian countries, particularly its neighbors in East Asia. The attempts by people like Abe to revise Article 9 of the pacifist constitution and to seek to make Japan a big political and military power damage the security environment of the Asian region. They would be naturally isolated and opposed by the peoples of Asia and the world as a whole. This is a grave fact that Abe and the conservatives would have to face up to in the future. 

Lu Yaodong is a researcher with the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

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