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Opponents face off over Constitution Day

Abe's backers say now is their time; foes feel sense of crisis

by Kazuaki Nagata and Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writers

With revising the pacifist Constitution rapidly emerging as the primary issue in the upcoming Upper House election, proponents and opponents of change alike used Friday — Constitution Day — to press their cases.

A group in favor of changing the Constitution held a major rally in Tokyo while thousands of its defenders held a protest march through the capital.

In the 66 years since its promulgation, the constitutional debate has rarely been this vigorous. The debate heated up after the Liberal Democratic Party took back control of the government in December, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe looking to make it a focus of the Upper House campaign this summer.

His backers expressed hope Friday Abe will achieve what they have dreamed about for decades.

“A lot of prime ministers through history clearly stated at the start of their tenure that they wouldn’t touch the Constitution. . . . But Prime Minister Abe’s Cabinet has already made pretty clear its intention to embark on amendment,” said Junpei Kiyohara, a representative of a Tokyo-based organization founded by late former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi that favors changing the national charter.

About 450 people attended its annual gathering in Shinjuku Ward on Friday.

Kiyohara said recent media polls have suggested the majority of the public support the idea of constitutional revision.

Because the current Constitution was drafted by the U.S.-led Allies, Japan has still not established its complete independence from the United States, he said.

He also said revising pacifist Article 9 is crucial, saying it is responsible for China’s increasing pressure to undermine Japan’s sovereignty over the disputed Senkaku Islands as its renunciation of war frees foreign aggressors of any fear of retaliation.

Kiyohara echoed Abe in saying that the first step should be to water down Article 96, which states that constitutional amendments must pass both Diet chambers with a two-thirds majority and be put before the public in a national referendum.

With the forces for amendment increasing their presence in the Diet, defenders of the Constitution in its present form exhibited a sense of crisis Friday, saying the charter is in danger.

“It’s been about six months since the general election (in December). The situation regarding the Constitution has been greatly changed” by Abe’s Cabinet, said Ken Takada, who helped organize a rally in the Hibiya district.

Abe’s intention is to make it possible for Japan to participate in wars, and this must be stopped, he said.

  • Robert Matsuda

    We have experienced no war for 68 years
    since the end of World War 2. We owe it much to our pacific constitution.
    Indeed it was mainly drafted by GHQ, but people welcomed the constitution that
    would renounce a war forever because they had experienced the tragic war. Most
    of people hoped Japan
    would never go to war. Under this peaceful constitution Japanese economy has
    developed rapidly. People have come to enjoy days of plenty.

    As those who had experienced the war have
    decreased and young people who don’t know the war have increased, people tend
    to forget the value of peace and the importance of the pacific constitution.
    Though Japan’s
    constitution was drafted under the influence of GHQ, Japanese supported the
    constitution and have chosen not to revise it for 68 years. We should remember
    the cruelty of the war and the determination by the people in those days not to
    go war again.

  • zer0_0zor0

    The fact that the reactionary nationalists are trying to revise the provisions determining the manner in which the Constitution can be amended demonstrates that they are actually out to undermine constitutional democracy per se.

    The attempt to use the Senkakus/Daiyo dispute is also dubious. Not only have they refused to even recognize a dispute, if the government did and agreed to bring the case before the International Court of Justice, Japan would probably lose. Even though China has evinced some problematic behavior in territorial disputes, the Edo period Japanese maps that use the Chinese name an diplomatic communications from the Meiji period related to those islands would seem to make this dispute less clear, with China standing a reasonable chance of being vindicated at the Hague, without even discussing Taiwan (which comes later in history).
    So the attempt to use “the China threat” as a scaremongering tactic in order to amend the Constitution while refusing to even recognize a dispute would seem to be indicative of a disturbing trend in Japanese politics.

    • Christopher-trier

      You’re leaving something out. China claims the Senkaku Isles as part of Taiwan and thus under its jurisdiction. By handing the isles to China it would, be default, hand the right to speak for Taiwan to mainland China. It’s similar to what Japan did in the 1870s regarding the Ryukyu Islands. By successfully demanding that the Manchu Empire pay Japan restitution for the deaths of Rykuyuans on the island of Taiwan the Qing in effect ceded their claim (tribute state status, to be clear) on the Ryukyu Kingdom to Japan. Soon after this Japan absorbed the islands into its territory formally.

      • zer0_0zor0

        I am not well versed on the circumstances of the transition from joint suzerainty of the Ryuku’s between China and Edo to it being annexed by Japan.

        It would seem, however, that based on the existence of the Japanese maps from the Edo period and Japanese diplomatic communications from the Meiji, it would seem that the Japanese government of two separate periods (Edo and Meiji) in the 19th century considered the Daioyu as a part of China. Was that the case for “Taiwan”, too?

        Subsequent developments lead to the post WWII treaties, and everything after that would seem to be somewhat trivial happenstance regarding the historical status.

        China had offered to develop the undersea resources jointly, so it seems that there is a strategic dimension to this dispute that outweighs the economic dimension.

        Your point about China claiming the Daioyu as part of Taiwan is also a detail I was not familiar with. Do you think that means that the Taiwan question has to be settled before the status of Daioyu can be resolved?

      • Christopher-trier

        The devil, so to speak, is in the details. By allowing Japan to claim reparations for the loss of Ryukyuans the Qing acknowledged Japan’s sole suzerainty over the Ryukyu Kingdom. By giving China ownership of the Senkaku Islands the PRC’s suzerainty over Taiwan is acknowledged. The Taiwan Question of the Senkaku Issue cannot be separated because of the nature of China’s claim.

        Taiwan until 1895 was considered part of the Qing Empire as a prefecture of Fujian Province until 1874 and as a Qing province in its own right from 1874 until 1895. From 1895 to 1945 Taiwan was administered by Japan following the terms of the Treaty of Shimonoseki and from 1945 to 1953 (the Treaty of San Francisco), Taiwan was legally Japanese territory under the administration of the Republic of China. From 1953 on it made a part of the Republic of China in breach of international law regarding the transfer of populated territories. It certainly wasn’t the only time such a breach occurred.

        Some Chinese documents indicate that the Chinese tacitly acknowledged Japan’s suzerainty over the Sankakus in the 20th century and some official PRC maps that date to the 1950s/1960s did the same. The PRC did not re-assert its claim until exploitable natural resources were found in the area which is fair, China conceded nothing by dropping a claim on useless specks. Ultimately the status quo ante was the best that could have been hoped for. Had Ishihara kept his ego in check this could have been averted. This is a pointless provocation of China.

  • Spudator

    Kiyohara echoed Abe in saying that the first step should be to water down Article 96, which states that constitutional amendments must pass both Diet chambers with a two-thirds majority and be put before the public in a national referendum.

    I’m not sure how the LDP intends to do this watering down of Article 96 since that in itself would be an amendment to the Constitution and would have to be put to the people in a referendum. Even if the LDP can achieve a two-thirds majority in the House of Councillors in the coming election, they’ve still got to get the people on their side if they want to start changing the Constitution.

    No doubt Prime Minister Abe aims to eventually replace Article 96 with something that allows changes to the Constitution to be made on the basis of a simple majority in the House of Representatives and without the need for a referendum. Having thus stolen the Constitution from the people, the LDP will be free to ride roughshod over the fundamental wishes of the people and change the Constitution in any way it sees fit. Hopefully, Japan’s citizens will recognise the LDP’s undemocratic machinations for what they are and vote resoundingly against any change to Article 96, letting the LDP know in the process that Japan belongs to the people, not the government.

    I’m shocked at the cynical way Abe and his gang of scoundrels are trying to disenfranchise the entire Japanese nation in this underhand way. The Constitution begins with the sentence, “We, the Japanese people, acting through our duly elected representatives in the National Diet, . . . resolved that never again shall we be visited with the horrors of war through the action of government, do proclaim that sovereign power resides with the people and do firmly establish this Constitution.” This clearly states that sovereign power lies with the people, not the government, which, having caused the people to be subjected to the sufferings of war in the past, is not to be trusted. Article 96 exists to guarantee that this power will remain with the people; it is fundamental to the integrity of the Constitution.

    The LDP’s plans to “water down” Article 96 are nothing less than a brazen attempt to completely tear up the Constitution and crush the principles it embodies. They’re an outrage. The Japanese people have the sovereign power to put a stop to this treacherous attack on their constitutional rights. I hope they use that power.

    • Christopher-trier

      It seems highly unlikely that the Japanese people would go along with it. Whatever its faults, the Japanese constitution has provided a measure of stability and peace. It would also be a foolish expenditure of precious political capital. Abe has enough support to implement critical reforms, that he’d waste time and effort on something that doesn’t need to be immediately changed his foolish.

      • Spudator

        I agree with you. Why would any sane person vote for their own disenfranchisement? The problem, of course, is that modifying or even nullifying Article 96 would only require the majority of those voting in the referendum to be in favour. So if people were so apathetic about the issue that only, say, 60% participated in the vote, Abe could get his way with the approval of just over 30% of Japan’s citizens.

        However, like you, I can’t imagine people being so unaware of the importance of such a change or so unconcerned about its ramifications that they’d not want to have their say about it. I’m sure the issue would become a hot topic on TV and in newspapers, and every adult in the country would understand how their constitutional rights would be in jeopardy if Article 96 were to be compromised. I know people are sick and tired of voting for dishonest, untrustworthy politicians; but I think they’d be out in droves in a constitutional referendum.

        So what on earth is Abe thinking? Does he have some scheme to hoodwink the Japanese people about the significance of Article 96 and somehow sneak a change to it in under the radar? If he is up to some kind of chicanery—and I wouldn’t be surprised if he is—I hope the people will be wise to it.