Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in a policy speech in his first regular Diet session as prime minister, pitched his top political goal — changing Japan’s postwar regime and revising the Constitution. But just what kind of nation he wants to build through such endeavors is not necessarily clear. In the short run, he apparently is trying to make constitutional revision an issue of contention in the July Upper House election campaign, in which a fierce battle is expected between his Liberal Democratic Party and the opposition Democratic Party of Japan.
Assailing Japan’s postwar system, Mr. Abe said, “It is now clear that the basic framework, such as the administrative system, education, the economy, employment, relations between the central and local governments, diplomacy and security, with the Constitution at its apex, will not be able to keep up with great changes in the 21st century.”
He called for deepening discussions on revision of the Constitution and expressed the strong hope that the Diet, in its current session, will pass a law concerning procedures for a national referendum needed for constitutional revision. He declared that “The time has come to boldly review the postwar regime by going back to its starting point and sail out anew.”
Although his wish for rewriting the Constitution is clearly indicated, Mr. Abe fails to explain how the Constitution is responsible for what he regards as the impaired functioning of the postwar regime, or what is specifically wrong with the Constitution. Unless he clarifies these points, many people will feel uneasy or suspicious about his political goal.
Mr. Abe said it is his “duty to depict a picture of a new nation that can endure rough waves in the next 50 or 100 years.” He added that he will carry out, with strong determination, all necessary measures for “building a beautiful country” — Mr. Abe’s recurring theme. Apart from individual policy proposals, only nationalistic and conservative sentiments emerged as salients in his speech — especially with regard to education reform, which he called his Cabinet’s “priority task.”
He suggested that values such as public spirit, self-reliance, love of one’s community and nation, and a sense of morality have been neglected in postwar Japan. But a review of the content of the revised Fundamental Law of Education and the education reform measures to be submitted to the Diet can’t rule out the possibility that education reform will lead to the imposition on children of values and attitudes convenient to the powers that be, and to the curtailment of freedom for students and teachers alike.
On the diplomatic and security front, Mr. Abe said he will push proactive diplomacy and strengthen the “Japan-U.S. alliance for both the world and Japan.” He called for “rebuilding a legal foundation” that enables Japan to contribute further to the peace and stability of the world. By this, he apparently meant easing or removing restrictions on the deployment of Self-Defense Force units overseas. He also said his administration will continue to study concrete cases in which the use of the right to collective defense is prohibited by the Constitution.
Both proposals need to be carefully scrutinized from the viewpoint of maintaining the principle of civilian control of SDF activities and prohibiting the use of weapons overseas under war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution.
Mr. Abe said he will build “mutually beneficial strategic relations” with China and “future-oriented close” relations with South Korea. Yet his statement that he will deepen relations with India and Australia as well as with the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations points to his intention of checking moves by China, which is rising economically and pushing military modernization.
On the economic front, Mr. Abe proposed a “new growth strategy” accompanied by efforts toward technological innovation and greater international competitiveness. Apparently keeping in mind the DPJ’s strategy of attacking the Abe administration for various economic disparities, such as the gap between the rich and poor and the gap between regular and irregular workers, Mr. Abe proffered his plan of support for “second careers” and measures to support “workers in economic difficulties.” He also hinted at raising the consumption tax after the Upper House election. The public needs to pay attention to the political discussion and determine who offers effective measures that will narrow disparities and strengthen the financial foundation for social security.
Mr. Abe’s policy speech came at a time when members of both the LDP and the DPJ are involved in scandals related to their political fundraising reports. Mr. Abe mentioned the problem only in passing. But he and all other politicians must realize that the issue is more important than individual policy matters, since the public’s trust in politics is at stake.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.