The long-cherished dream of Shinzo Abe, the Japanese Prime Minister, finally seems to have come to an end. Half of his support base has left him, depriving him of the dominance over the country’s government he needs to make Japan capable of war once again. The people have expressed their strong opposition to him and reminded Abe of how the Japanese Empire fell. Yet, the prime minister still seems to ignore their desperate voices, crafting another plan to pass the constitutional amendments that can finalize his dream.
▲ NO for Abe’s Amendment of the Ninth Article! National Executive Committee, PROVIDED BY YONHAP NEWS
The “NO for Abe’s Amendment of the Ninth Article! National Executive Committee” was organized on September 5 to stop Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s attempt to amend the Ninth Article of Japan’s Constitution. Under the leadership of Sawachi Hisae, Utsda Datsru, and Arima Laitei, the committee plans to gather 30 million signatures until next May. Hishiyama Nayoko, one of the founders of the committee, said, “We will stop the people seeking another war. The constitution exists to sustain peace without resorting to military means or causing uneasiness.”
Indeed, the Ninth Article, known as the Peace Article, has symbolized Japan’s determination to bring about perpetual peace. After their defeat in the Second World War, Japan was coerced into drafting the article by the General Headquarters of the Allied Forces (GHQ). It consists of two sections; the first section opposes the use of armed forces, and the second states that Japan must abandon its army and its right to military belligerence. The article has always been a nuisance to the Japanese right-wing supporters including Abe’s grandfather Kishi Nobusuke. To them, being incapable of war was a crippling weakness, especially with the constant threat of North Korea looming over Japan.
This was why the amendment of the Ninth Article has always been a controversial subject in Japan. According to Lee Jong Ook of the Korean-Japanese Relationship Research Institute, people have attempted to amend the Ninth Article since the 1950s. They were stopped by the people’s strong support for the Peace Article, which lasted until the late 1980s. However, due to the shift of the atmosphere in the international arena away from pacifism, calls for amendment resurfaced starting from the 1990s. After Abe appeared with his high approval ratings, which once passed the 70 percent milestone, his popularity, along with his party’s dominance in the National Diet, led many to expect the Ninth Article to be amended during his tenure.
Master Plan or Another Desperate Failure
Yet, when everything seemed to work smoothly, another obstacle has obstructed the prime minister’s path. Scandals surrounding his wife, Akie Abe, have knocked his seemingly immutable approval rate down to 30 percent. Akie allegedly received preferential treatment when acquiring national lands for her elementary school. Maeil Broadcasting Network reported that Akie was able to purchase the land at only 14 percent of its estimated value, and testimonies from the foundation of the school later confirmed that she did in fact bribe officials. It has become clear that without high approval ratings, Abe will be unable to subdue the strong resistance from the pacifists whilst reforming the Ninth Article as he had hoped since 2012. Faced with insurmountable opposition, Abe resorted to advocating the addition of a third section in the Ninth Article that acknowledges the existence of the Japanese Self-Defense Force (SDF). Professor Ryu Jeong Hoon of the Global Institute for Japanese Studies explained that by simply adding a section, Abe plans to make Japan capable of war again without provoking those who oppose him.
Unfortunately, experts including Ryu are unsure whether such deception will work. There is a general consensus that Japan’s old-fashioned constitution must be amended, but the Japanese people’s fondness of the Ninth Article makes them hesitant to amend that particular article. Indeed, reports from the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) show that 43 percent of the people wish for an amended constitution while only 34 percent are against it. Yet the numbers are reversed when it comes to the Peace Article, with 57 percent expressing their objection to amending the Ninth article and only 25 percent welcoming an amendment. For the majority, amending the Article is equivalent to abandoning their symbol of peace.
▲ Shinzo Abe, PROVIDED BY SHUTTERSTOCK
Similarly, members of opposition parties, including those of the Democratic Party, are ambivalent toward the amendment. They too understand the need to reform the constitution, but are staunchly against touching the Ninth Article. Edano Yukio, the Secretary General of the Democratic Party warned, “Putting another section in the Article is also unforgivable.” Under pressure from other parties that oppose his dogmatic plans, Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) decided to postpone its plan to submit its bill for amendment until the Fall provisional session of the Diet.
A Return to Militarism
The prime minister’s insatiable obsession over the amendment is difficult to understand. Ostensibly, there is nothing to gain by pushing for the controversial reform, which would threaten the possibility of his reappointment. In particular, Professor Ryu added that due to the Security Act, which was passed in 2015, Japan is practically already a country capable of war. The Act granted the country the right to collective self-defense, which means Japan can intervene in conflicts between neighboring countries and use military force to prevent future danger. The SDF no longer needs to keep exclusively to a defensive security policy, and can engage in combat even when no direct threat is posed to its country.
Professor Ryu claims that there might have been exterior influence that convinced Abe to push for reform, which in this case appears to be the United States (U.S.). “It seems like the U.S. is pushing Japan to arm themselves to pressure China,” Ryu said. He further explained that there was a similar situation during the Gulf War; when the U.S. asked for military reinforcement from Japan, the latter instead settled for financial support. Ryu reckons that critical voices were raised within the U.S. considering this incident, which explains Abe’s obsessions with the Security Act and the amendment of the Peace Article. It is a part of the power struggle of China and the U.S. over control of East Asia.
Regardless of the reasons behind his actions, the steps Shinzo Abe are taking will, without a doubt, significantly affect the precarious political situation in East Asia. With Japan’s growing militarism looming large over both Korea and East Asia in general, from here on out only fate will decide how this powder keg will explode.
▲ Professor Ryu Jeong Hoon, PHOTOGRAPHED BY CHO EUN BYUL