Japan statute in fray

Japan statute in fray

Since Shinzo Abe returned to power in December 2012, there has been a debate to revise Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution.

Though this is not easy, the attempt to tamper or even to reinterpret the spirit of the Article has generated a lot of controversy at home and concern in Japan’s neighbourhood, particularly in China and South Korea, who see this, among Abe’s other moves, as a return to militarism.

Though the majority view inside Japan is not to tamper with the Article 9, which has given the name of Japan’s Constitution as being the Peace Constitution, Abe knows that the path to amend the Article is difficult.

Any bill to amend any Article of the Constitution would require the motion to be passed by two-thirds majority of both the Houses of the Diet, followed by endorsement by a national referendum.

Even if Abe manages to get the motion passed through the Diet, it is extremely unlikely that it will go through the referendum successfully as the general public is averse to such an idea.

What does Article 9 say specifically?

After Japan’s defeat in World War II, the Supreme Commander of Allied Powers headed by General Douglas MacArthur virtually imposed the Constitution on Japan.

Article 9 limits the use of armed forces to self-defence and forbids the use of war to settle international disputes.

Recent actions by Abe are directed at revising and reinterpreting the restrictions to defending allies under attack.

In his New Year message in 2013, Abe publicly declared that revising the nation’s pacifist Constitution was his “life work” as a politician.

But what was significant that he underlined the importance of defending Japanese territory from China’s “growing assertiveness” in the region.

When he made a surprise visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine on 26 December 2013 much against the US advice, he drew ire of China and South Korea, both of which were victims of Japanese aggression during the War as Yasukuni Shrine is seen as a symbol of Japan’s militarism and Abe’s visit there is seen as a return to the same path.

Abe’s decision to visit the Yasukuni came after China raised tensions in the area by announcing a unilateral air defence zone that overlapped with territories of Japan and of neighbouring countries, specifically including airspace above uninhabited islands in the East China Sea controlled by Tokyo but disputed by Beijing.  

Soon after Abe assumed power, his initial focus was on improving the country’s economy.

Of the three arrows of what is dubbed as Abenomics, the first two arrows yielded positive results.

The economy returned to its growth path, stock market witnessed a surge and the Yen depreciated against the dollar to the tune of almost 20 per cent, thereby helping the exporters.

But even when his third arrow and the most difficult one – structural reforms – was to be implemented came the evidences of his nationalist approach by passing a state secrecy law which critics saw as a threat to democracy in Japan.

The other is his approach to convert the Self Defence Forces into a full-fledged military.

This second policy has raised concerns in Asian countries, most of whom were occupied by Japan during World War I.

What has caught the imagination of the world has been the proposal of some concerned citizenry in Japan to recommend the Nobel Peace Prize Committee to consider Article 9 for the Novel Peace Prize as it has stood as a symbol of peace for the past nearly seven decades, and thereby frustrate Abe’s grand plan to do away with it or at least dilute its spirit by reinterpreting it.

Campaign for prize

Now it seems the campaign to give Nobel Peace Prize to Japan’s Article 9 has gained traction.

The motivation behind the move is that in 2012, the European Union won the Nobel Peace Prize for their contribution to peace, reconciliation and improvements and human rights.

This made the Japanese homemaker Naomi Takasu to believe Japan’s Article 9 of the Constitution is worthy of the award too.

The 37-year-old mother soon started a signature campaign to nominate that of the Japanese Constitution for the prestigious award.

Her contention is that “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right for the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international dispute” is a good enough reason for serious consideration.

She sent the mail to the Norwegian Nobel Committee in January 2013 to recommend it for the award but was ignored initially.

She persevered and collected 1,500 signatures to support her recommendation.

She finally got a reply about the nomination process but it said constituents may not be nominated, only organisations and people.

The best candidate to nominate emerged as the “Japanese people”. The Nobel Prize Committee officially nominated Article 9 for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The only past Japanese winner of the Nobel Peace Prize has been former Prime Minister Eisaku Sato, who shared the prize in 1974 with Ireland’s Sean MacBride.

Sato received the award for signing the NPT in 1970 on Japan’s behalf and for his attempts to stop the post-war Japanese nationalists.

In his zeal to promote his “proactive pacifism” and pursue his nationalistic agenda, Abe inadvertently has given a chance to his people to win the prize.

Even if the Nobel Committee finally takes a decision not in favour of the Article 9, the very fact that it was one of the candidates for consideration will lift public consciousness about ways to preserve, promote and secure peace in the region and the world when it seems is under threat.

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