National / Politics | MAKING THEIR CASE

New Komeito chief vows to counter Abe if he tries to change Article 9

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

New Komeito President Natsuo Yamaguchi said Friday his party will continue to act as a counterweight to the Liberal Democratic Party if the senior coalition partner aggressively pursues revising the war-renouncing Article 9 or exercising the right of collective self-defense after the Upper House election.

“If the LDP shifts toward the direction where the public is wary (such as revising Article 9), we will side with public sentiment and control the LDP” even though LDP has far more Diet members, Yamaguchi said in an interview with The Japan Times.

The New Komeito chief will be seeking re-election to the Upper House next month.

In the run-up to the election, the ruling coalition is gunning for a majority in the Upper House to rectify the so-called twisted Diet. Currently, the opposition camp controls the Upper House, making it difficult for the ruling coalition to achieve its legislative aims.

While New Komeito and the LDP have largely agreed over their political priorities, there are some discrepancies concerning key issues, such as revising the Constitution, exercising the right to collective self-defense, views on historical issues and nuclear energy policy.

Yamaguchi credited Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with toning down his push for constitutional revisions after public opinion polls found insufficient support. But the leader of New Komeito, which is backed by the lay Buddhist group Soka Gakkai, warned against moves by the LDP to aggressively pursue any amendments.

“Our stance is closer to that of the public,” which wants to keep Article 9 unchanged, he said.

Touching on strained ties with neighboring countries over wartime history issues, Yamaguchi admitted that tensions may have been aggravated by Abe, especially his eagerness to replace the sex-slave apology statement issued in 1993 by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono.

The statement confirmed that the Imperial Japanese military was involved in managing brothels for its soldiers, but there are still conflicting views on whether the military forced females into sexual servitude.

Yamaguchi said New Komeito wants to keep the Kono statement intact, implying Abe’s attempt to replace it would further aggravate foreign relations.

Abe also wants Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense to bolster the Japan-U.S. alliance, and reconvened an expert panel on the issue. Collective self-defense is the concept of a nation aiding an ally that comes under attack.

Yamaguchi said New Komeito maintains the current interpretation that Japan cannot exercise the right.

“If we suddenly change the interpretation, it would harm the domestic and international trust which Japan has forged over the years,” Yamaguchi said.

On nuclear power, meanwhile, New Komeito has maintained that all reactors should be phased out as soon as possible. The LDP is seeking restarts.

While the Abe administration has pursued exporting nuclear technology to such countries as India and Turkey, Yamaguchi expressed caution.

“If other nations desire Japan’s sophisticated nuclear power technology, it could be an international contribution,” he said, adding that adopting low-quality nuclear technology would only lead to serious problems. “Yet, we should avoid giving an impression that Japan is aggressively seeking nuclear exports,” he added.