Japan's PM Abe eyes legacy with proposed change to pacifist constitution

Sat Jun 3, 2017 11:10pm GMT

By Linda Sieg

TOKYO (Reuters) - - Japan could hold its first referendum on revising its pacifist constitution next year, a historic step which if successful would cement Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's conservative legacy but risks splitting the public and worrying China and South Korea.

Abe, in a surprise move on the 70th anniversary of the U.S.-drafted charter last month, made a proposal to revise its war-renouncing Article 9 by 2020 to clarify the ambiguous status of its military, known as the Self-Defence Forces (SDF).

Amending Article 9 would be hugely symbolic for Japan, where supporters see it as the foundation of post-war democracy but many conservatives see it as a humiliating imposition by the U.S. Occupation after Japan's defeat in 1945.

It would also be a victory for Abe, whose conservative agenda of restoring traditional values and loosening constraints on the military centres on revising the constitution.

"When he looks back on his years in office, he wants to be able to say, 'I revised the constitution'," said former deputy defence minister Akihisa Nagashima.

Concrete steps to change the charter would likely cause concern in China and South Korea, where bitter memories of Japan's past military aggression persist, although analysts said Seoul's new government might refrain from direct criticism given the need for cooperation over North Korea's missile programmes.

"Because of reasons of history, the international community, particularly Asian neighbours, have always paid close attention and been on alert to Japan’s military tendencies," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said recently.

China hoped Japan could "respect the spirit of the peaceful constitution", she said.   Continued...

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe walks after speaking on reports of the launch of a North Korean missile to reporters , at his official residence in Tokyo, Japan May 29, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai
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