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Shinzo Abe calls for Japan’s ‘rebirth’ in 2020 along with constitutional revision

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday reiterated calls for rebooting long-stalled parliamentary debate on the revision of Japan’s post-war Constitution, saying he wants to see a “significant rebirth” of the nation in 2020.

Speaking at a Tokyo event, Abe touched on his self-imposed goal of amending the charter by 2020 — a controversial timeline he unveiled in a surprise announcement on May 3, or the 70th anniversary of the U.S.-drafted supreme law.

“2020 is the year when we hold the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic games. I want that year to mark a significant rebirth of Japan,” he told a gathering organized by a Jiji Press-affiliated public corporation in Tokyo.

“With the arrival of that year comes a rise in expectations for a new era, which I believe will necessitate us discussing the Constitution, or the way our nation should be.”

Abe, however, quickly sought to stave off criticism that he is taking things too fast.

He said his ambition to revise the charter — which has remained untouched since its inception 70 years ago and played an integral role in defining Japan’s postwar pacifist mentality — is not “schedule-oriented,” suggesting that he is not necessarily fixated on the 2020 deadline he had set himself.

At the end of the day, he said, “it’s the public themselves who decide (whether to revise) the Constitution in a referendum.”

“I want each political party, regardless of whether they belong to the ruling camp or the opposition, to submit their own ideas on revision and deepen their discussion in a level-headed manner at the Diet,” he said.

In what could become the first step toward formulating a party consensus on how to amend the charter, Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party is reportedly set to unveil what is dubbed a “concept paper” on the topic Wednesday.

In the paper, the party is expected to spell out the sticking points regarding four revisions it promised ahead of an October election, including rewriting the war-renouncing Article 9 to formalize the status of the Self-Defense Forces and guaranteeing free education.

On Japan’s relationship with Russia, Abe conceded that he has yet to make significant headway in concluding a peace treaty between the two nations still mired in a long-standing territorial dispute over four islands off Hokkaido.

But the leader emphasized that his meeting last year with President Vladimir Putin in Abe’s hometown of Nagato, Yamaguchi Prefecture, laid the groundwork for ongoing joint economic activities on the islands. He then expressed eagerness to visit Moscow and Saint Petersburg in May next year to attend international events, “if circumstances allow.”

As next year marks the 40th anniversary of Japan’s conclusion of a peace and friendship treaty with China, Abe said he wants to “take the Japan-China relationship to a new level,” voicing hopes that visits by him and Chinese President Xi Jinping to each other’s countries will soon materialize.

As for his bid to run for the LDP’s leadership election next year, Abe declined to confirm a decision — although his candidacy and resulting victory are widely taken for granted.

“I’m too preoccupied with next year’s ordinary Diet session,” he said. “I’ll consider once the session is over.”