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Japan elections provide mixed fortunes   2013-07-23 14:38:39  

In the Japanese parliamentary upper house elections over the weekend, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its allies scored a resounding victory. 

These clear-cut results, while widely predicted, nevertheless elicited positive expectations and negative concerns from neighboring countries.

On one hand, many Southeast Asian countries coat-tailed on Japan's steaming economic locomotive for almost half a century after WWII, becoming "Little Tigers" in their own right. However, starting in the 1990s, Japan's growth slumped steeply. 

If not for the coincidental rise of the Chinese and Korean economies during the same period, many Southeast Asian countries would have been hard-pressed in their own economic development.

With Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe having once again taken the reins late last year, bold economic stimulus measures, including monetary injection into the economy, have been making the rounds in financial and industrial circles.

It is hoped that the LDP's recent commanding win in the upper house could further consolidate these urgently needed measures to help resuscitate both the Japanese and, by extension, other ailing economies in the region.

But this euphoric outlook is perhaps tempered by some other equally urgent concerns. The so-called Peace Constitution of Japan adopted after WWII spells out in its Article 96 that constitutional amendments have to be passed by two-thirds of votes of both the upper and lower houses. 

With most current members of the lower house seemingly poised to embark upon constitutional revisions of various types, and Abe echoing the need for constitutional amendments, the upper house will play a crucial role in any forthcoming constitutional changes.

The most worrying scenario will see two-thirds of members of both houses revising Article 96 itself, lowering the threshold for constitutional revision to half membership in both houses, similar to the number required for passing ordinary laws.

This could then precipitate repeated attempts at constitutional amendments by opportunistic politicians for self-serving reasons. But these may not be in the best interests of the country in the long run.

Indeed, certain Japanese politicians often argue that constitutional amendments are needed to rectify the abnormal phenomenon whereby Japan has been treated as a "second-class" nation since its defeat in WWII.

While this argument sounds reasonable enough, some suspect that its true intention is the abolition of Article 9, which enshrines Japan's unconditional relinquishing of the use of war to settle international disputes.

The neighboring countries' concerns on this possibly perilous line of political development in Japan are not without reason. For one, Article 9 aside, Japan still retains the right to self-defense in the face of aggression. 

In fact, the equipment and resources of Japanese Self-Defense Forces are arguably far superior than those of most neighboring countries. Japanese forces do not only passively patrol their territories and waters, but actively participate in large-scale military exercises and UN missions abroad.

Moreover, Japan is definitely not lagging in its military technology. Even long before the onset of WWII, Japan was the first Asian country to manufacture and operate aircraft carriers, equipped with high-performance fighter planes.

Whether or not the Japanese constitution is amended, Japan could in short notice accelerate its military research and production.

This is not to mention the US military presence on Japanese soil as well as the US' obligation to come to the aid of Japan in case of foreign attack.

It could thus be argued that Japan's national interests could already be effectively safeguarded even without the repossession of its right to declare war. Neighboring countries, most of which suffered from Japanese invasion and occupation in WWII, are understandably nervous at any hint of the resurgence of Japanese militarism.

From a strategic point of view, this sort of nervousness could well translate into another arms race in the region. A side effect of this would be the wider mutual distrusts thus engendered among neighboring countries.

The world economy, including that of Japan, has been tanking for a few years. The East Asian economic powerhouses which performed relatively decently should have courageously shouldered the heavy responsibility of shoring up the world economy.

If instead the worries over Japanese constitutional amendments divert precious attention and resources into upgrading defense capabilities in lieu of economic stimulus, the repercussions will be global.

Abe is about to embark on a tour of Southeast Asian nations later this week. These nations, not unexpectedly, are looking forward to ever closer economic cooperation with Japan for mutual benefits.

A diplomatically moderate and economically bullish Japan, not a nationalistically overconfident one, will be welcomed as a good neighbor and a partner for progress. 

From: Global Times
By:Ei Sun Oh

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