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Cover Stories Series 2013> Monitoring East China Sea Airspace> Archive
UPDATED: May 13, 2013 NO. 20 MAY 16, 2013
Abnormal Normalization
Japan's prime minister seeks to dismantle pacifist Constitution
By Yu Lintao

Wu Huaizhong, a researcher with the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that although revising a Constitution and possessing an army are normal for a sovereign country, the prospect of military normalization and constitutional revision under the guidance of right-leaning thought would certainly arouse concern.

However, Abe appears to have ignored the concern of neighboring countries. He said to reporters on May 1 that there is no need for Japan to explain its decision to revise its Constitution to its neighbors.

Abe isn't alone in his appeal to revisionism. On April 23, 168 Japanese lawmakers paid tribute to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which still houses the memorial tablets of major war criminals of World War II—the largest collective visit made by Japanese politicians in years. Days before, three members of the Abe cabinet visited the shrine respectively while Abe sent a ritual offering. In China and South Korea, visits to the Tokyo shrine are seen as symbolic of Japan's refusal to atone for its crimes against its neighbors.

Uncertain consequences

Abe's right-leaning tendency on the one hand is intended to satisfy domestic political needs, and on the other hand concerns the acquiescence and even encouragement of Washington.

"Tokyo is taking advantage of Washington's 'pivot to Asia' strategy," Shi said to Beijing Review. In this context, the United States is inclined to rearm Japan to balance the rise of China, Shi added.

Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and former Assistant Secretary of Defense Joseph Nye, Jr., in a report last August sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C., sought tier-one status for Japan. They argued that Japan and the United States should face the rise of China together while advocating a larger role for Japan's Self-Defense Forces.

Wu Zurong, a research fellow with the China Foundation for International Studies, a think tank based in Beijing, noted that Japan is often used to serve Washington's dual tactics toward China, with the aim of simultaneously cooperating with and containing the latter.

He added that rearming Japan conforms to the U.S. global military strategy as the United States is mired in a severe budget deficit and shortage of military expenditure.

From the long-term view, however, the rearming of Japan is probably not in line with the interests of the United States in view of Japan's false reading of history, Shi said.

"It is ill-advised for the U.S. Government to regard China as a strategic opponent at a time when more and more Americans are seeking to develop partnerships with China," Shi said.

Observers worry the direction Japan is taking could possibly bring instability to the region and sow discord for mutual political trust.

Shi told Beijing Review that the shock of Tokyo's push to regional stability is self-evident. "To attain its goal of military normalization, it is not unthinkable that the Abe administration could stir up trouble in the East China Sea and South China Sea maritime disputes or the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue to attack opposition voices," said Shi.

East Asian economies are increasingly interdependent. The impact of Tokyo's move on mutual trust would negatively affect regional economic cooperation.

The economic integration of East Asia is an inevitable trend, but the irresponsible attitude taken by Abe toward Japan's past as well as his attempt to rewrite the Japanese Constitution would undermine the basis for integration and postpone the process, eventually damaging the national interests of East Asian countries including Japan, said Huo Jiangang, an expert on Japanese studies with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

Many Japanese citizens are not willing to give up their pacifist Constitution. On May 3, a group of about 3,500 Japanese people gathered in Hibiya Park in downtown Tokyo and took to the streets to demonstrate their opposition to the government's attempt to amend the war-renouncing Article 9 of Japan's Constitution.

Asahi Shimbun, a leading newspaper in Japan, also warned the Abe administration in its editorial that Japan's isolation from China and South Korea may affect its own interests amid the unpredictable Korean Peninsula situation.

However, observers are not optimistic that Abe will abandon rewriting the Constitution. "If the right wing wins the upcoming upper house election, Abe's next move is imperative," Shi said.

China and South Korea are firmly voicing their concern about the issue. Reports said that South Korea's parliament set up a special committee in May to respond to Japan's moves. At a recent press conference, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson advised Japan to take a prudent attitude, deeply repent for its history and take concrete actions to win the trust of its Asian neighbors and the international community.

Huo said the Japanese right wing's push for the so-called "normal statehood" could have an abnormal effect on the country in light of its wrong view of history.

Email us at: yulintao@bjreview.com

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