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Experts’ tongue-lashing rekindles Diet debate on reinterpreted Constitution

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

The surprise bashing of the Abe administration by three noted constitutional scholars — including one favored by the ruling bloc — rekindled debate in the Diet Friday on the constitutionality of the Cabinet’s decision last summer to reinterpret war-renouncing Article 9.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida rebutted the remarks of the three scholars, who were summoned Thursday to address a Lower House session on constitutional affairs, by saying not all academics share their opinion.

“Some academics say it is not unconstitutional,” Kishida said at a news conference, adding that many opinions were solicited before the Cabinet unilaterally decided in July last year that Japan could legitimately engage in collective self-defense without amending the Constitution after all.

During Friday’s session of the special Lower House committee on security bills, Kiyomi Tsujimoto of the Democratic Party of Japan demanded that the government withdraw the contentious legislation in light of the scholars’ opinions.

In response, Defense Minister Gen Nakatani argued that using the right to collective self-defense, or coming to the aid of an ally under attack, is constitutional as long as its primary goal is to defend the lives of Japanese citizens, rather than the ally supposedly in need of help.

DPJ policy chief Goshi Hosono also said the bills should be scrapped, noting that the premises for passing them have not been properly set.

The three experts were Waseda University professor Yasuo Hasebe, who was summoned based on a recommendation by the Liberal Democratic Party-Komeito ruling bloc; Setsu Kobayashi, professor emeritus at Keio University, who was recommended by the Democratic Party of Japan; and Eiji Sasada, another Waseda professor who was recommended by Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party).

A party usually backs an academic expert who supports its own arguments for a Diet hearing. But betraying the expectations of the LDP-Komeito ruling bloc, Hasebe said the Abe administration’s push to reinterpret the Constitution last year to allow Japan to engage in collective defense effectively violates Article 9.

“Allowing the use of the right of collective self-defense cannot be explained within the framework of the basic logic of the past government views” of the Constitution, Hasebe explained to the lawmakers on the Committee on the Constitution.

“(The reinterpretation) considerably damages legal stability and violates the Constitution,” Hasebe said, echoing the opinions of the other two experts at the hearing.

According to Kyodo News, Hasebe’s unexpected remarks embarrassed the ruling bloc, which is pushing to pass state-sponsored security bills this summer that will use the controversial reinterpretation to expand the types of actions that can be taken by Japan’s defensive military forces at home and abroad.

“Why are they (LDP committee members) doing this during a sensitive time for deliberations on (the security) bills? This is an anti-party action, and the LDP (committee) members should all be replaced,” an unnamed LDP executive was quoted as saying by Kyodo News.

The right of collective self-defense, as defined under the United Nations charter, allows a country to use force to come to the aid of an ally under attack, even if the country itself is not being attacked.

Article 9 of the Constitution had long been interpreted by the government as limiting Japan’s use of force strictly to self-defense, and as banning the use of collective self-defense.

But last year, Abe said he wanted to change the long-standing interpretation, arguing the Constitution allows Japan to defend its allies, particularly the U.S., if Japan’s survival is at stake and use of force is limited to the minimum necessary level.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga defended the Abe government’s position on Thursday, saying the opinions of the three scholars won’t affect Diet deliberations because the Constitution has not banned measures for self-defense.

“So the minimum necessary use of force should be allowed” and the reinterpretation is within the framework of the past government views, Suga argued.

Article 9 of the Constitution reads: “The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

“In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

Japanese politicians in power have long argued that Article 9, despite its renunciation of war and prohibition on maintaining military forces, doesn’t deny the inherent right for a country to defend itself as long as it is limited to self-defense exclusively.