World

Time ripe for change to Japan's 'peace constitution', says PM Abe

TOKYO: Japan's American-written "peace constitution" has survived unchanged for 70 years, but nationalists seeking an overhaul are gearing up for a major new push as concerns grow over North Korean belligerence.

Conservatives have long called for the document they see as a national humiliation to be amended, and now political alignments and growing security concerns suggest they have their best chance of success.

"The time is ripe," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Monday in a speech to supporters of change. "We will take a historic step towards the major goal of revising the constitution in this milestone year."

The constitution, which took effect 70 years ago today, renounced Japan's sovereign right to wage war. It has been championed by progressives as a pacifist symbol born out of the country's World War II defeat.

Supporters argue the document is a bulwark against any repeat of Japan's World War II aggression, and warn attempts to revise it risk whitewashing the country's modern history.

But nationalists deride it as an alien charter forced on the country by an occupying power - the United States - bent on imposing its Western values. And they see those who defend its emphasis on peace as dangerously out of tune with geopolitical realities.

While unlikely to seek the complete removal of the war-renouncing Article 9, they advocate changes to its wording, such as recognising the country's self-defence forces as a military and clarifying Japan's right to defend itself.

Pro-amendment parties can now muster the two-thirds majorities necessary in both houses of Parliament to pass changes, though they would be subject to a national referendum for final approval, and that is seen as the biggest hurdle.

The constitution has never been amended, but governments such as Mr Abe's have interpreted it in ways that have loosened some of its constraints.

In 2015, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its allies rammed legislation through Parliament enabling Japan to engage in "collective security" - the defence of troops from its US ally and other friendly nations - if seriously threatened. That triggered a backlash from legal scholars and lawyers - who argued the changes violated the constitution - and sparked demonstrations.

On Monday, Japan dispatched its biggest warship since World War II to escort and protect a US supply vessel in the first such action under the new security laws as tensions mount in the region over North Korea.

Public opinion polling shows broad acceptance of the "peace constitution" as a whole, although views are divided on the hot-button issue of Article 9.

Public broadcaster NHK found 25 per cent of respondents in favour of changing it, with 57 per cent opposed. A survey by Kyodo News found 49 per cent for and 47 per cent against.

Attitudes would likely harden if there was a real attack by Pyongyang.- AFP

JapanpoliticsNorth Korea