National / Politics

Abe doubles down on constitutional reform and pledges defense buildup in speech before National Defense Academy graduates

Kyodo, JIJI

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe renewed his commitment Sunday to amending Japan’s U.S.-drafted pacifist Constitution, one of his key policy goals and a decades-old pledge of his ruling party.

Abe has maintained his desire to amend the supreme law and clarify the status of the Self-Defense Forces to end the debate over their constitutionality, while his ruling Liberal Democratic Party has shied away from the topic due to its potential political impact on a series of local elections in April.

“The SDF has now won the trust of 90 percent of the public,” Abe said at a graduation ceremony of the National Defense Academy in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture.

“Now it’s our turn to make all-out efforts to prepare an environment where SDF members can fulfill their duties with strong pride,” he added.

In contrast to his speech at a graduation ceremony last year, Abe did not refer to the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

Sources familiar with Abe’s thinking say he is willing to personally meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in hopes of securing progress on the abduction issue, which involves Japanese kidnapped by agents of the North in the 1970s and 1980s.

He said at the ceremony a year ago he would maintain his hard-line stance until Pyongyang gives up its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

In his speech to the graduating students, Abe reiterated his resolve to strengthen Japan’s defenses against new threats, such as cyberattacks.

Referring to the new 10-year defense policy established late last year, Abe said his government will accelerate the buildup of defense capabilities to counter both cybersecurity threats and threats from countries utilizing outer space for military ends.

“We’ll push forward with reforms at a speed fundamentally different from the past to build defense capabilities for the next era so that our country can maintain its advantage in the areas of cyberspace and outer space, and electromagnetic waves.”

Abe hailed the SDF’s past activities, including search and rescue operations after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in the Tohoku region and other natural disasters that hit the country, and mine-sweeping operations in the Persian Gulf.

The number of National Defense Academy graduates in fiscal 2018 totals 478, excluding those from abroad. Of them, women account for 48.