A worrying move by Abe

Updated: 2013-08-07 09:19

(China Daily)

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The appointment of Ichiro Komatsu as head of Japan's Cabinet Legislation Bureau on Friday drove home the message that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is targeting the country's pacifist Constitution.

The appointment of a diplomat to the position is unusual as it is customary for the bureau's deputy director-general to become the director-general.

However, Abe wants to push forward the lifting of the Constitutional restraints on the right to exercise collective self-defense, and by making his supporter Komatsu the head of the bureau that examines legislative bills and offers legal advice to Japanese cabinet members, he aims to lay the groundwork for a bill to revise the Constitution.

Abe cannot wait to end the current interpretation of the Constitution. In February he revived the expert panel he formed in 2007, during his first term as prime minister, to reinitiate deliberations on lifting the ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense. The panel's conclusions are to be included in the new National Defense Program Guidelines, due in December, which will outline Japan's defense policies for the next 10 years.

The Abe administration has been preparing public opinion by playing up the "threats" to Japan. In so doing, it is setting the stage for Constitutional amendments.

The latest step was the interim National Defense Program Guidelines released on July 26. With the focus on the "growing threats" from China and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the document calls for a self-defense force that is oriented offensively. It proposes having the capability to carry out preemptive attacks on "enemy" missile bases, and recommends that Japan create an amphibious force with landing capabilities.

Having amphibious capability has historically been perceived as having the ability to deploy an expeditionary invasion force, which contradicts the exclusively defensive capabilities mandated by Japan's Constitution for its defense forces. On Tuesday, Japan launched its third helicopter carrier, which is not only against the spirit of the Constitution but also provocatively named after a World War II warship that was part of the invasion of China by Japanese forces.

To realize his ambitions, Abe needs to rewrite the Constitution, and he has repeatedly pledged to do this as part of his efforts to make Japan a proud nation.

By moving his supporters into key positions he is seeking to stifle debate and ensure that the country endorses his militaristic approach to building national pride, an approach that is alienating Japan's neighbors and causing anxiety among the international community.