Japan’s resurgence

Updated On: May 08, 2007

Japan is shaping a new global role for itself.

Politicians to academic scholars are debating about a new constitution for Japan, one that departs from the US-imposed postwar constitution. The center of the debate is on the Constitution's Article 9, which bars the nation from maintaining a military and renounces war to settle international disputes. Critics argue that it should be changed to officially recognize the Self-Defense Forces as a defensive entity to boost their morale and to better respond to national emergencies.

They also argue that Article 9 should stipulate that the military can serve in overseas missions when a third international party like the United Nations requests Japan to do so and the Diet approves it. Some argue that constitutional change is necessary because the current constitution made the troop dispatch to Iraq illegal and unconstitutional. To circumvent it, a special law had to be enacted in 2004 to allow the SDF to carry out humanitarian and reconstruction work in a part of Iraq deemed a non-combat zone.

This is not the first time that Japanese voices are clamoring for a constitutional change. In the 1950s, calls to amend the Constitution grew among conservative politicians as the Americans ended its Occupation of Japan with the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty. The then influential Japan Socialist Party, a pro-Constitution group, used its influence in politics to stop the constitutional amendment. With the end of the Cold War, the waning of socialism and a decisive shift to nationalism and right-leaning views in Japanese society and politics, there are no longer such impeding forces to constitutional amendments. North Korea and the War on Terrorism provided further external impetus to Japanese sentiments for a change.

While a constitutional change seemed to be on the Japanese agenda, some advocates disagree amongst themselves what the changes should be. Opponents of the LDP draft has cited the problematic preamble in that it requires Japanese nationals to love the nation and Article 9, which recognizes the SDF for the military that it is but does not specifically state under what conditions the forces may be sent abroad. PM Abe pushes the conservative position in working "towards a Japan that instills confidence and pride among its children".

Even more radically, views against the Love of the Nation Clause are contradicted by a nonpartisan group of politicians (consisting of retired and current 190 elected Diet members) headed by former Prime Minister Nakasone who go one more step to propose a new preamble for an amended constitution that says "the Emperor is the symbol of the unified public" and Japan shall "protect its independence through the solidarity of the public who love the nation" and these clauses must be written in Japanese.

Others, however, have a more fundamental opposition to the constitutional change and see it as a first step towards militarism. They see the goal of the LDP draft as an official declaration of the right of Japan to use arms. They also see it as a sinister plot by the government to portray Japan as a victim of international aggression to justify the government’s right to use arms. Such moves are feared because Japan already has one of the most powerful, technically-advanced and well-equipped military force in the world. The fear is that the revision of the Fundamental Law of Education in December 2006 to instill a specifically defined sense of patriotism in the classroom may become a step in educating future generations of Japanese to accept the eventuality of Japanese involvement in future armed conflicts.

Constitutional change is not the only way for Japan to assert itself globally. US and Japan are striking a closer military alliance in the face of the War on Terror and also a perception of China’s growing power as a military threat. A Camp David summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President George W. Bush, Japanese and U.S. foreign and defense ministers agreed to pursue "alliance transformation." This would include sharing missile defense and other military information, a comprehensive pact to protect military information (to be signed in the future), strengthening the two countries' relationship with Australia and India, deepening cooperation between Japan and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, accelerating the realignment of the U.S. forces in Japan, especially in Okinawa, further integration of Japanese and U.S. military capabilities. Japan would also no longer need to hide under the protective military umbrella of the US military and assert its security needs on its own.

Such measures also meet opposition on the grounds that Japan's ties with the U.S. are becoming too military oriented. Countering such accusations, the Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee declared that "the North Korean provocations, including missile launches in July and a nuclear test in October 2006, serve as stark reminder of the importance of transforming the U.S.-Japan Alliance to ensure its continued effectiveness in an ever-changing security environment."

The threat of China is spelled out clearly by the alliance, calling on China "to conduct itself as a responsible international stakeholder, improve transparency in its military affairs and maintain consistency between its stated policies and actions." And to make such warnings credible, US and Japan have called for closer military ties with Australia and India. To some, this is a reminder of the Cold War containment policy, except that this time, the target is China. 

Less controversially, in the economic sphere, Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) aim to sign a free-trade deal in November 2007. Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Akira Amari told the media: "Japan and ASEAN successfully reached a basic agreement on the modalities of negotiations for goods trade, and this is based on the Japanese proposal that was tabled at the ASEAN Summit in Cebu in January".

Bilaterally, Japan is also on the economic diplomatic offensive. The Indonesia Japan Economic Partnership Agreement is on the table to eventually end import taxes on more than 90 per cent of trade between the two nations and requires Indonesia to commit its liquefied natural gas (LNG) to contractual supply. Indonesia is not the only ASEAN country to benefit from Japan’s will to be a global power.

As an alternative to China, Japanese companies are flocking to Vietnam with massive investments. New investment from Japanese companies amounted to a combined $ 1.06 billion in terms of registered capital in 2006, more than double the previous year and Japanese companies are beginning to shift their production from China to Vietnam based on the China-plus-one policy to diversify their investment and reduce their dependence on China. Some argue that the Vietnamese investments is said to have become prominent especially after a series of violent anti-Japan demonstrations in China in 2005.  (7 May 2007)


Alliance transformation (Japan Times, 5 May 2007)

Japan, ASEAN clear key FTA hurdle (Japan Times, 5 May 2007)

Beware loss of peace clause: philosopher (Japan Times, 5 May 2007)

Modify Constitution for modern world, scholar urges (Japan Times, 5 May 2007)

Japan's Presence Set To Grow (Saigon Times Weekly, 5 May 2007)

LDP wants to cut freedoms: DPJ (Japan Times, 4 May 2007)

Nakasone: Constitution defective, preamble needs 'love of nation' clause (Japan Times, 4 May 2007)

Japan PM calls for defence review (BBC News, 3 May 2007)

Japan, ASEAN hope for basics of free trade pact (Channelnewsasia, 3 May 2007)

Japanese support grows for military amendment (CNN, 2 May 2007)

The problem with Pan Asianism (Japan Times, 2 May 2007)

Japan, U.S. vow tighter military, security ties (Japan Times, 2 May 2007)

EDITORIAL/ Japan-U.S. summit (Japan Times, 30 April 2007)