U.S. expert says Abe better focus on getting S. Korea on board


Japan should first improve relations with South Korea before reinterpreting the Constitution for the sake of collective self-defense, says George Washington University professor Mike Mochizuki.

If the government wants to reinterpret the supreme code, it should also “take steps to promote better relations by dealing with the history issue, especially with South Korea and also China,” he said in a recent interview.

“So that’s the part that I’m most critical” about concerning Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, he said.

“My judgment is that there’s no need to hurry about reinterpretation,” he stressed, adding that “it’s not the right timing because the relationship between Japan and Korea has been bad.”

“So if I were to recommend policy for the Abe government, it would be to focus on the improvement of relations with South Korea rather than the reinterpretation of the Constitution.”

Abe needs to think about relations with South Korea instead of domestic political calculations, Mochizuki said, pointing out that the prime minister appears to be rushing the constitutional reinterpretation issue while he can take advantage of his strong public support.

“It’s important that South Korea, even if it doesn’t support it, can express an understanding,” he said, suggesting that Japan should make an effort to create such an environment. If South Korea joins with China in criticizing Japan, “that would be unfortunate,” he said.

Since the mid-1990s, “I have been in favor of Japan being able to exercise the right of collective self-defense,” Mochizuki said.

There are basically three pillars of Japanese security policy — the Constitution, the U.N. charter and the U.S.-Japan security treaty, he said, adding that the charter and the security treaty both recognize the right of individual and collective self-defense.

“So I argue that there should be a greater harmony among those three ideas.”

“In terms of international law, there wasn’t this clear distinction between individual and collective self-defense,” he said.

Even if Japan chooses to exercise the right of collective self-defense, it will not be a major change in security policy, he said.

“If Japan, kind of, has the ability to say yes to collective self-defense, it also gains the right to say no,” he said.

Given Japan’s reluctance to use force, “it would be good if Japan became a full-fledged member of the international community, and that would provide some restraint on the United States,” he added.

Even if reinterpretation happens, it will be constrained and limited to the necessary minimum because of public opposition, he predicted.

Mochizuki said he expects that Japan will be more like Germany than Britain, which frequently fights side by side with the United States military in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere.