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Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, all but certain to be the next prime minister, again expressed on Tuesday his strong ambition to revise the pacifist Constitution and maintain the right to exercise collective defense on specific occasions.

But Abe, known as a hawk on security issues, did not rule out the possibility of only changing the government’s interpretation of the Constitution to achieve that goal.

The current interpretation of the Constitution prohibits the nation from exercising the U.N.-guaranteed right to collective defense.

“Given the expectations for Japan to contribute actively on the international stage and to maintain stability and security in the region, we must consider specific cases (to exercise the right) more seriously,” Abe said at a news conference in response to a reporter’s question.

He cited changes in international affairs since the Constitution was written 60 years ago.

“Of course, I think that revising the Constitution and enacting a new one should be the next thing to be put on the political schedule. We should, however, also consider (enabling the exercising of the right) under the current interpretation or a new interpretation,” he said.

Abe also said Japan needs new legislation to enable the overseas dispatch of Self-Defense Forces at any time without having to pass special laws on each occasion.

Abe is the front-runner in the race to succeed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Revising the 1947 Constitution, drafted by the Occupation forces, is top on his policy agenda, in which he also calls for Japan taking a greater diplomatic role and participating in international military missions.

He has said that removing the self-imposed restriction on exercising the right of collective defense would enable Japan to work “more effectively” with the United States.

Under the current interpretation, Japan cannot take action to defend an ally even when the ally is under attack.

New Komeito policy

New Komeito, the junior partner in the ruling coalition, will stress the need to improve Japan’s soured relations with China and South Korea over the next two years, according to a draft party policy statement.

“It is unfortunate that discord with Chinese and South Korean leaders has emerged” due to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine, the statement says.

The policy payer outlines its hopes for the next two years.

It calls for “creative Asian diplomacy” that will work to mend ties with China and South Korea. It says the leaders of the three countries should have frank exchanges to bring stability to Asia.

The statement also touches on uncertainties in Asia, such as North Korea’s nuclear program.

Chinese and South Korean leaders have refused to hold summit talks with Japan in response to Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine.

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