Tag Archives: Article 9

Japanese constitutional revision, and welcoming Tobias Harris and Observing Japan back to blogville

Harris headshotAfter a reasonably long hiatus that led me to remove Observing Japan from the Transpacifica blogroll (which I have capped at 25 in an effort to list only the most valuable sources), author and friend Tobias Harris is back, and with a vengeance.

Reasons to welcome him back:

(1) While he apparently did not win on Jeopardy on Monday, this guy was on Jeopardy!

(2) More pertinently, read his latest post: Is constitution revision actually possible? He writes:

[W]e’re probably seeing the emergence of what will likely be a persistent pattern should Abe remain in power. Abe and his lieutenants will talk about the need to revise the constitution, Komeito will express its unease about revision, what’s left of the left wing will sound the alarm, public opinion polls will reveal skepticism about revision, LDP grandees will suggest backing down…and rinse and repeat.

The underlying issue is the much-discussed revision of Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, which reads:

Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

As is obvious to all in the region, land, sea, and air forces are very well maintained in the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, so the letter of this law is in some sense moot. But Article 9 still has force and, because of judicial interpretations, limits the status and activities of the SDF. Just as importantly, Article 9 frustrates efforts by the Japanese right to return their country to “normal country” status among states.

The post is actually about an intermediate step that would likely be necessary to get to Article 9 revision: a change to Article 96 of the constitution, which sets a two-thirds vote in the Diet followed by a referendum as the threshold for constitutional revision. The right apparently doesn’t have two-thirds for Article 9 revision, so some are seeking support to change Article 96 to allow a simple majority to trigger a referendum.

So as you can see, if Toby is right, the constitutional revision issue is an opportunity for Prime Minister Abe to play to the conservative base of the Liberal Democratic Party without the likelihood of success. It’s something Abe or other LDP leaders could do periodically to placate the far right, and in that sense is perhaps a welcome alternative (from the perspective of the left, or of China and Korea) to former Prime Minister Koizumi’s annual visits to the Yasukuni Shrine. And as he writes of the crumbled opposition, “Defending the constitution may be one of the few areas in which the Japanese left is still be able to mobilize citizens.”

So follow Observing Japan for regional issues, Abenomics, and whatever else comes up in Japanese politics. (And anyone is welcome to correct me, if I’ve bungled details on constitutional revision here.)

What kind of 'hawk' is Japan's Shinzo Abe? Probably not the kind you think

Shinzo Abe

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, photographed in 2012, from Wikimedia.

Shinzo Abe became prime minister of Japan in December, more than six years after he first took the job, succeeding long-serving Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in September 2006. In the U.S. press especially, Abe is often termed a “nationalist” or “hawk” for supporting expanded military activities and a potential revision of the Japanese constitution.

Crystal Pryor, a Japan Studies Visiting Fellow at the East-West Center and a Ph.D. student in political science at University of Washington (and my former office-mate), released a very useful brief pushing back on U.S. coverage of the new prime minister in Japan.

To keep things in perspective, it’s worth reviewing the actual text of Article 9 of the constitution, which I will render verbatim but in outline form. And it’s worth remembering that advocates of change are pushing for revision, not repeal.

Article 9.
Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce
• war as a sovereign right of the nation and
• the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph,
• land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.
• The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

Pryor writes:

As the Japanese constitution is currently interpreted, Japan cannot take military action if an ally, the United States, is attacked because Japan does not have the constitutional authority to engage in collective self-defense. Even activities such as sending the Japanese Self-Defense Forces on UN PKOs in the 1990s or on refueling missions in the Indian Ocean after 9/11 in support of the US-led operation in Afghanistan faced major domestic hurdles. Japanese politicians calling for Japan to shoulder its half of the security alliance or to send troops on PKO missions can hardly be considered “hawkish” by American standards.

On the constitutional question, one can immediately see that revision of Article 9 need not completely erase restrictions on warmaking in order to carve out the right for Japan to “pull its weight” in the U.S.–Japan alliance or in U.N. peacekeeping operations.

Pryor also argues that Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) did not beat the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) because of its “nationalist” character. On this point, few would disagree: Analysts almost universally characterized the LDP electoral victory as a rebuke of the flagging DPJ leadership and economic policies. Pryor also notes that low youth voter turnout undermined the DPJ.

Shinzo Abe and George W. Bush in 2007. We were all younger then.

Shinzo Abe and George W. Bush in 2007. We were all younger then.

So what of the emphasis on nationalism and hawkishness? Five years ago, the connection between Abe’s name and the word “nationalist” was already a point of discussion. In the midst of a conversation between the blogger Ampontan (who recently passed away, and whose voice is missed despite differences of opinion) and Tobias Harris at Observing Japan, I compared Abe’s reputed nationalism to that of Junichiro Koizumi, whose repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine drew loud opposition from leaders in China and South Korea:

As we know, Koizumi spent much more time and international political capital than Abe has in paying tribute to Japan’s late 19th—early 20th century nationalism. But Abe has spent more energy on a more contemporary and more instrumental form of nationalism, the revision of Article 9. The rhetoric behind constitutional revision—especially among the people usually called “nationalists”—often invokes the desire for Japan to become a “normal state.”

Indeed, for all the fear about a potential Japanese remilitarization, Abe has not been a particularly extreme voice in Japan. Though it may not repair perceptions of his orientation among others in the region, Abe is not the biggest “hawk” in the Japanese political sphere.

As Pryor notes, some real hawkishness comes with the emergence of a “third force” in Japanese party politics.  “[Shintaro] Ishihara, who gave up his position as governor of Tokyo for this election, is a hawk even by American standards. Most recently, he played a central role in reigniting the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands dispute by declaring that Tokyo would purchase and develop the islands. Ishihara has also called for Japan to revise its current constitution and develop nuclear weapons.” It was Ishihara’s provocation that led the Japanese national government to take legal control of the islands. Though that move was blasted by many in China, the islands likely would be even more of a sticking point if Ishihara controlled them.

So Japan’s political stage is, unsurprisingly, more complicated than portrayals in U.S. news stories. But the perception of an agressive, nationalist, or unrepentant Japan is real among some in China. Every day in Beijing, I still see bumper stickers declaring “钓鱼岛 中国的” (“The Diaoyu Islands are China’s”)—or, more aggressively, “打倒小日本!” (roughly, “Take Down Little Japan!”). The Wall Street Journal writes from Tokyo that “while [Abe] seeks a more assertive Japanese presence in the region, he isn’t about to provoke China or risk worsening already strained relations between Tokyo and Beijing.” I’m just not sure Chinese media and official voices, let alone those mobilized in the 2012 anti-Japan protests, are on the same page.

"Article 9 is the 'God of Peace' that Saves Humanity"

That’s the title of a new entry into the Article 9 discussion from Japanese blogger Amaki Naoto.

He gives a harsh assessment of U.S. failures in the Middle East, saying that after the Cold War “the Middle East became the epicenter of world conflict.” He also blames problems in the Middle East on the influence of Jews in the United States. Here he quotes a discredited supposed statement by Benjamin Franklin calling for the expulsion of Jews from the United States. But he makes it worse than even the falsely rumored English statement by using a harsher word than “expulsion.”

“The United States must destroy (滅ぼされる) the Jews,” he claims Franklin said. And he agrees. After the somewhat shocking anti-semitism comes another kind of religious fervor. He exalts a personified (or really deified) Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution as a humanity-saving god of peace.

Article 9 has remained silent all these years, he writes, but pretty soon its silence will be broken. He writes:*

怒りだす時が来る。憲法9条という「平和の神」がその意志を示し始めのだ。その時、誰もがその前にひざまづく事になる。その神が声を発したら、それに逆らう事は誰にも出来ない。そうだ。怒れ!憲法9条よ。愚かな人間を目覚めさせて欲しい。声を上げて欲しい。

The time when it gets angry is coming. The ‘god of peace’ called Article 9 will begin to reveal its will. At that time, everyone will kneel before it. Once that god’s voice is heard, no one will be able to go against it. Yes, indeed. Get angry! Article 9! I want you to wake these foolish people. I want you to give us your voice!

As the only people to have been hit by a nuclear bomb, he writes, the Japanese people’s awakening will move the god of peace and rescue the world.

*Comments or corrections welcome on all translations.

McCain on N. Korea, Rearming Japan, and Taiwan (Oct. 2006)

In a Hannity & Colmes interview last year devoted mostly to attacking U.S. efforts to control North Korea under President Bill Clinton, Senator John McCain—now a leading Republican presidential candidate—said if the United Nations doesn’t do enough to control North Korea, Japan will have to “rearm.” And he said, puzzlingly, that something he refers to as “it” would be in China’s interest … referring to Taiwan! Here’s the quote, from October 11, 2006:

HANNITY: Senator, you know, just as we’re coming on the air here tonight, Japan is suspecting that North Korea, in fact, conducted a second nuclear test. And, as we think about this, what is the answer here? Is the answer that we worked through the United Nations or is a stronger answer that we rearm Japan, that we offer them some type of missile defense, and perhaps they even become nuclear-prepared?

MCCAIN: If the United Nations, because of China and Russia, do not invoke the strictest form of sanctions, that will affect our relations with both countries in a variety of ways. It is in China’s interest, not for any reason other than it’s not in China’s interest to see an escalation of tension on the Korean Peninsula.

Yes, the Japanese would have to rearm. The Japanese would have to acquire defensive weapons. What happens with Taiwan? The whole area could be in jeopardy of some kind of conflagration. That’s why it’s in China’s interest. [emphasis mine]

And, by the way, they control the food, and they control the oil that goes into North Korea. And they could exercise that if they want to.

So first the United Nations sanctions. But China has got to play a greater role. And they’ve been doing pretty well.

HANNITY: Rearming Japan, a resolution to defend Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, that would all be in the areas that you would suggest to the president at this particular point, remind the Chinese that, in fact, the Olympics are coming?

MCCAIN: Yes. And I would also make it clear to the Chinese that we’re not happy with some things, like the currency exchange. We’re not happy with their repression of democracy. We’re not happy with their failure to progress recently on a path to a free and open society.

And we will continue our steadfast belief that Taiwan will only be reunited to China if it’s done in a peaceful manner and the people of Taiwan desire to do so. Until then, we will protect them.

This second answer looks like an exercise in unloading predetermined China talking points. It strikes the usual ambiguous note on Taiwan.

But let’s take the bolded statement apart. He says Japan would have to “rearm” and “acquire defensive weapons,” when in fact Japan already has defensive weapons, and U.S. patriot missiles have been deployed in Okinawa since June 2006. Rearming could mean replacing current weapons with other, similar ones. More likely it means bringing Japan’s level of armament back to a higher, former level. Given McCain’s invocation of a possible regional “conflagration” that could involve Taiwan, we can only assume he means revising Article 9 of the Japanese constitution and giving Japan the right to engage in collective self defense.

It’s entirely unclear to me whether he means that rearming Japan would be in China’s interest or that a strong U.N. reaction to North Korea’s nuclear test is in its interest because anything less would lead to rearming Japan.

It would be nice to ask some follow-ups now that the North Korea situation has cooled off.

Who's the Bigger Nationalist: Abe or Koizumi?

Ampontan criticizes English-language media for their “[m]indlessly parroted assumptions based on conventional wisdom” that lead to their labeling Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo as a “nationalist.” The entry notes Abe’s hands-off approach thus far on the disputed island situations with Korea and Russia as evidence that he is no “hawkish nationalist.” Observing Japan, on the other hand, argues that, for a variety of reasons, Abe can reasonably be called a nationalist:

What makes Abe a nationalist has little if anything to do with his ideas about Japan’s place in the world and more to do with his vision of Japanese society. In short, Abe and his allies in the LDP want to use the state to recreate a more unified Japan as a means of coping with the problems Japan will face in the twenty-first century. What makes Abe a nationalist is his desire to forge (or re-forge) a kind of dynamic unity among the Japanese people, under the rule of the emperor, of course. As he said in his debate with Ozawa Ichiro this week, “If Japan’s long history, traditions and cultures can be likened to a tapestry that the Japanese people have been weaving, the emperor is the warp.”

An interesting question if we’re talking about Japanese nationalism in a historical sense is whether Abe or Koizumi is indeed the bigger nationalist. The nation-building (i.e. unifying) efforts by the Meiji government prominently featured the symbolism of the Yasukuni Shrine, and they used Yasukuni as a place to show off Japan’s new pride in regarding itself as a modern nation. The shrine was strategically located on a Kudan Hill, which then separated upper- and lower-class areas of Tokyo, with the idea of symbolizing unity. Kudan Hill is also conveniently right across the street from the Imperial Palace Grounds, lest you would forget how important the emperor was to the emerging Japanese nation-state. (An excellent source for the early history of the shrine is Akiko Takenaka’s dissertation on Meiji nationalist architecture: Takenaka-O’Brien, Akiko. “The Aesthetics of Mass Persuasion: War and Architectural Sites in Tokyo, 1868-1945.” Yale University, 2004.)

As we know, Koizumi spent much more time and international political capital than Abe has in paying tribute to Japan’s late 19th—early 20th century nationalism. But Abe has spent more energy on a more contemporary and more instrumental form of nationalism, the revision of Article 9. The rhetoric behind constitutional revision—especially among the people usually called “nationalists”—often invokes the desire for Japan to become a “normal state.”

Indeed, as currently constituted, Japan lacks one of the main characteristics of an independent sovereign state: the ability to use force or the threat of force as an instrument of foreign policy. The result is a relationship with the United States that puts its status somewhere in the area between protectorate and strategic ally. Though Japan could theoretically cast off U.S. ties without changing its constitution, the security environment makes this highly unlikely. Changing the constitution would, for better or for worse, strengthen Japan’s independence as a state.

So my verdict: People like Abe who favor constitutional revision are “practical nationalists,” whereas people like Koizumi who pay tribute to late 19th century nationalist traditions are “sentimental nationalists.”