Abe plans to enforce first-ever change to Japanese post-WWII pacifist constitution by 2020
The prime minister has stated that the year Japan will host the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo will be the year in which the country will "be born anew" and will move forward "in a solid manner."
"I strongly desire that 2020 will be the year a new Constitution goes into force," he said in a video message, aired by Japanese television broadcasters.
"Parliamentarians will soon have to begin concrete discussions in order to present to the people a plan to initiate a constitutional amendment," Abe added, as cited by Kyodo news agency.
Under the constitution's Article 9, the Japanese people "forever renounce war," pledging that "land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.”
Article 9 leaves it open to interpretation whether Japan should maintain forces and how they could be used. Abe, who is also head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, proposed making explicit the existence of the so-called Self-Defense Forces (SDF).
"By making explicit the status of the SDF in the Constitution during our generation's lifetime, we should leave no room for contending that [the SDF] may be unconstitutional," the prime minister said in the video message.
He proposed referring to the SDF in the Constitution while leaving two paragraphs in Article 9 untouched, a change that, according to Abe, "deserves popular debate.”
The first paragraph of Article 9 currently states: "Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes."
The next paragraph adds: "In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized."
The government argues, however, that the provision does not formally prohibit Japan from defending itself, and therefore allows Japan to possess defense forces.
A growing number of voters in Japan - 45 percent - throw their weight behind Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's campaign to revise the country’s postwar constitution, a Nikkei Inc/TV Tokyo survey found on Wednesday.
About 46 percent of respondents favor keeping the constitution as it is, four percentage points lower than a similar poll a year earlier, Reuters reported. The number opting for a change is up five percentage points.
According to a Kyodo News survey, supporters of change slightly outnumber opponents, 49 percent to 47 percent, amid mounting concerns about North Korea and China's military buildup.
Commenting on the overall need to revise the constitution in the future, some 60 percent said it was "necessary" or "somewhat necessary."
Tim Beal, researcher and Asia specialist told RT that Washington is a big supporter of Japan’s military buildup. “United States sees Japan as its major ally fighting force against China, and to certain extent against Russia.”
In 2015, the upper house of Japan's parliament approved controversial legislation, permitting the military to fight overseas. It gave Japan a constitutional right to deploy troops overseas and assist during military operations involving a foreign or multinational force in cases where Japan faces a "threat to its survival.”Critics slammed the move as unconstitutional, warning that it may drag the country into conflicts abroad which have nothing to do with Japanese security.
The unpopular bill sparked a wave of indignation among the Japanese still standing for a more peaceful policy. Thousands of people took to streets in Tokyo holding banners, saying “War Is Over,” “Peace, Not War” or carrying the portraits of Abe with “No War” words on them.
In March, Japan's ruling LDP party urged the government to “immediately consider” deploying US anti-missile systems and introducing cruise missiles capable of directly striking North Korean bases in response to a potential attack from Pyongyang. Japanese authorities were also advised to “immediately consider” the introduction the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and land-based Aegis missile defense systems.
Acquiring such weapons is bound to come under fire from China, scarred by memories of Japan's wartime aggression.
Tokyo has long voiced concerns about becoming a possible target for Pyongyang. Three ballistic missiles test-fired by the North Korean military landed off the Japanese coast earlier in March.
On Tuesday, North Korea accused the US of pushing the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war after a pair of supersonic B-1B US bombers flew training drills with the South Korean and Japanese air forces on Monday.