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Okinawans' views clash on constitutional revisions

Date Posted: 2007-05-11

The question of whether Japan’s constitution should be revised is raising numerous points of view, and in Okinawa it’s no exception.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has proposed revamping Japan’s 60-year-old Constitution to provide more freedom and flexibility, particularly in areas of national defense and use of the military. In a week when National Constitution Day was celebrated May 3rd, both advocates and proponents of constitutional change turned out in Okinawa to be heard.

At issue is Abe’s proposed Amendment of Article 9, which would create a full military structure instead of the Self Defense Forces now in place. Abe contends the change is needed to permit Japan “to take up the challenges of strife and conflict that may face international society over the next 50 years.” The current constitution barring Japan from maintaining a military for purposes of warfare, was drafted and implemented following World War II, and remains unchanged.

Abe marked the 60th Anniversary of the pacifist constitution by calling for “a bold review” of the constitution, saying the present one is outdated. “We face the need to review the Constitution,” he said, noting “A bold review of Japan’s postwar stance and an in-depth discussion of the constitution for a ‘new Japan’ is necessary to open up a new era.” He called for a “Japan that instills confidence and pride among its children.”

More than 1,500 Okinawans opposed to changing the constitution turned out at Naha City Civil Hall for a symposium against it. An overseas activist and panelist, Arthur Vinard, brought applause with his “To revise the constitution is very wasteful. Your constitution is not even used…just new. Why would you want to trash it?” he asked. A Ryukyu University Constitution Study Circle comprised of students echoed the thought.

“This Article 9 is the Okinawan peoples’ constitution, and we’ve gotten this by working very hard. Other people want to reform it, and that is not good at all. We have to protect Article 9, and never change,” read a report issued by the group.

Proponents of constitutional change rallied at many points across Okinawa, including Ginowan City Cultural Resort, where local assembly members were attending a new constitution promotion meeting. “The current constitution is no good, and not fitting to our lives,” they argued, adding “Article 9 change should make Japan independent.” The group said it’s convinced an independent Japan can make better alliances with the United States “to keep a peaceful country, making life safe, and not staying in the old mold.”

The 1947 constitution bans any use of Japanese military force as a means of settling international disputes. Irritation with that clause has been festering for years, leading former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to launch a campaign to make changes that would end restrictions and permit creating a standing army. New public opinion polls by two Japanese newspapers shows the country wants change.

Both the Nikkei Shimbun and Mainichi Shimbun newspapers conducted surveys in late April, finding that more than 51% of the respondents want a constitutional change.

Abe, since becoming Prime Minister, has been testing the limits of the current constitution, continuing the use of Japanese Self Defense Forces in Iraq and Indian Ocean, and upgrading the Defense Agency to a full cabinet level ministry. He argues the Article 9 change, which faces a parliamentary vote later this month, would give Japan a more significant role in international relations.

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