Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Japan must stop playing with fire

By Zhou Yongsheng (China Daily) Updated: 2014-07-22 10:05

A few days before the 120th anniversary of the outbreak of the 1894-95 Sino-Japanese War, Japan reinterpreted Article 9 of the Constitution to expand its military role, which should be cause for concern for not only China, but also the whole world.

The international community should not forget how Japan wreaked havoc on its neighbors, especially China, before and during World War II. It also should not underestimate the potential risks that Japan's exercise of collective self-defense rights pose to the region and beyond.

The constitutional reinterpretation engineered by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gives Japan the right to use force-to the minimum degree necessary-in the absence of an appropriate alternative to thwart a perceived or real attack on it or a country with which it has close ties. It also can use force when there are signs of an attack that could threaten the existence of the Japanese state and/or subvert Japanese people's right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

According to the original interpretation, Japan could exercise the right to self-defense only when there was an imminent and illegitimate act of aggression against the country and no other appropriate means to repel such aggression, but the use of armed forces was limited to the minimum necessary level. That meant Japan was only entitled to exercise the right to self-defense. The Abe government has now widened Japan's military options-right to collective self-defense-by reinterpreting Article 9.

Jiro Yamaguchi, professor of political science at Hosei University in Tokyo, wrote in his recent column for The Japan Times that exercising the right to collective self-defense in essence means gutting the war-renouncing spirit of the postwar Constitution. He also wrote that Abe was ignoring an important lesson from Japan's militarist past that once a war breaks out, restraints such as "minimum necessary" use of force tend to become meaningless. Therefore, Japan's reinterpretation of Article 9 to serve its political agenda violates the constitutional spirit and is devoid of any legal or moral sanction. In other words, it is indicative of the fundamental change in Japan's defense posture and will have far-reaching consequences for the region and the world as a whole.

Abe's move has already divided the Japanese society, with the opposition parties and a large percentage of the people condemning the reinterpretation. In fact, a Japanese man set himself on fire in central Tokyo in late June in an apparent protest against the move. Also, 58 percent of the respondents to an opinion poll conducted by Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun on June 27-28 said they were opposed to Abe's move and 71 percent feared Japan could get dragged into a war if it exercised the right to collective self-defense.

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