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Even after snap poll win, Abe shouldn't revise Constitution

By Cai Hong | China Daily | Updated: 2017-09-25 07:32

How to deal with the threat from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea may be one of the campaign planks of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party for a possible snap election. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will reportedly dissolve the lower house of parliament within a week and announce the general election-likely on Oct 22.

As the DPRK continues its missile and nuclear tests, Abe may find it easier to sell his idea of building a strong Japanese military and revising the Constitution to the electorate. An official of the prime minister's office has said the LDP will make constitutional revision to legally transform the Japan Self-Defense Forces into a military one of its poll promises.

Abe has argued that the SDF can officially become Japan's military by adding a new clause to Article 9 while keeping intact the renunciation of war and the ban on Japan maintaining the potential for war. Abe hopes to enforce the amended Constitution in 2020.

In this context, US President Donald Trump's maiden speech at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday could be seen as a kind of pep talk for Abe who has adopted a tough DPRK policy. Trump vowed to "totally destroy" the DPRK if the US is forced to defend itself or its allies against Pyongyang.

On Wednesday, Abe urged all UN member states to block the DPRK's access to "the goods, funds, people and technology" necessary for its nuclear and missile programs. Ruling out dialogue with the DPRK, Abe said in his UN address that Japan supports the US position that "all options are on the table".

The day before Trump's UN speech US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis hinted that Washington had "many military options" against Pyongyang. But experts-even Mattis himself-have said a conflict on the Korean Peninsula would be "catastrophic" not only for US and ROK citizens, but potentially for the Japanese.

The DPRK has threatened to "sink" Japanese islands with nuclear weapons. Its missile and nuclear tests have triggered anxiety and fear in Japan. In recent years, a total of six DPRK missiles have passed over Japan, which, as the Yomiuri Shimbun said, may become routine.

Japan issued its J-Alert, designed in 2007 to quickly inform the public of various threats, in 12 prefectures, including Hokkaido, encouraging people to shift to a sturdy building or basement when the DPRK fired missiles over Japan on Aug 30 and Sept 15. The alert covered the largest area since its inception. But since many people complained that they couldn't find a shelter, some Japanese have decided to be self-reliant-they have built air-tight nuclear bunkers under their houses. And residents in many parts of Japan have held evacuation drills for a simulated DPRK missile attack.

Anxiety, therefore, has prompted many Japanese to favor Abe's hard-line approach to Pyongyang. The Japanese public's attitude toward their pacifist Constitution, too, has begun to change in recent years. A poll conducted by Kyodo News in April showed 49 percent of the respondents said Article 9 should be updated, compared with 47 percent preferring status quo. In December 2012 when Abe became prime minister for the second time, 51 percent of the public was against changes to Article 9, compared with 45 percent in favor of revisions.

Japanese opposition parties have criticized Abe for creating a political vacuum by deciding to dissolve the lower house when tensions on the Korean Peninsula remain high. In fact, the Asahi Shimbun has termed Abe's likely move self-serving opportunism.

Latest polls show the approval rating of Abe has rebounded. But with the current political landscape in which the LDP is not necessarily the voters' favorite choice and opposition parties have no clear vision for governance, people in Japan may not be prepared for a general election next month. So if the LDP wins the snap election, the victory would not represent a public mandate for amending the Constitution.

The author is China Daily Tokyo bureau chief.

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