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Asia Unbound A Korean View: Japan’s Constitutional Revision Debate


CFR experts give their take on the cutting-edge issues emerging in Asia today.
This blog post is part of a series entitled Will the Japanese Change Their Constitution?, in which leading experts discuss the prospects for revising Japan’s postwar constitution. Sheen Seong-ho is professor of international security and East Asia at Seoul National University.
Most Koreans are against Japan’s constitutional reform and consider it a sign of Japan’s revert back to militarism. Personally, I do not agree with such an interpretation. I doubt that Japan has any desire to return to militarism, as its people feel that they are the greatest victims of such a past. Besides, it is unlikely that the current Japanese nation, with a super-aging population and a shrinking economy, has the capacity to become an expansionist power even if it wanted to. Moreover, Japan’s revision efforts are partly aimed at augmenting the U. S.-Japan alliance, as the Americans have long demanded for a more active role by the Japanese military to adjust what they regard as an unbalanced alliance. Considering the rapidly widening economic and military gap with China, Japan has to inevitably rely on the United States for its security protection. However, my understanding belongs to the minority opinion among both the educated intellectuals and the commoners in South Korea.
The decision on whether to revise their constitution is ultimately up to the Japanese society and its political leadership. Yet, the potential deterioration in Japan’s relationship with China and South Korea—two of its closest and most powerful neighbors—that could result from the revision cannot be ignored. Angry protests on the streets of Beijing and Seoul are highly possible if the revision actually occurs. The Japanese leaders may feel futileness of trying to convince these two countries of Japan’s security interests, but should make sincere efforts in this regard. It is unclear, however, whether Japan would make such efforts, since its relations with China and South Korea have been aggravated over historical interpretations and territory issues.
Japan should endeavor to improve its relations with its two neighbors, because its being perceived as a new emerging threat could destabilize East Asia. Either by misunderstanding or misled public opinion, most Koreans and Chinese consider Japan’s constitutional revision a march back to its military past. If the revision goes as planned, it could provoke or provide excuse for a new round of arms race in the region. Such a consequence will be against Japan’s national interest, so Japan should make it clear that its commitment to the spirit of the Peace Constitution remains steadfast.

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