Japan's Liberal Democratic Party marked its 50th anniversary yesterday by unveiling a proposed revision to the country's pacifist constitution that would end the ban on possessing a military and give the armed forces a more assertive international role.
The LDP, which has ruled Japan almost continuously since its founding in November 1955, also adopted a new party platform.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, addressing party loyalists assembled at a Tokyo hotel, urged Japan to match its weight as the world's second biggest economy by co-operating more with the international community, a reference to the LDP's planned overhaul of the constitution.
"We need to take up the challenges of strife and conflict that may face international society over the next 50 years," Koizumi said.
Japan's constitution drafted by US occupation forces after World War II and unchanged since 1947 bars the country from employing military force in international disputes and prohibits it from having a military for warfare.
But Japan has interpreted the constitution to mean it can maintain a 240,000-strong Self-Defence Force to protect itself. In 1992, the government presented a further interpretation that enabled the dispatch of troops to participate in international peacekeeping operations in non-combat roles.
The proposed LDP revision keeps the clause renouncing war, but removes the need for such interpretations by clearly stipulating in the constitution itself that Japan may keep a military force for self-defence and for participating in international peacekeeping efforts.
"In addition to activities needed for self defence ... the defence forces can take part in efforts to maintain international peace and security under international co-operation, as well as to keep fundamental public order in our country," the draft says.
The change is part of a general push by Koizumi's government to give Japan a larger military and diplomatic profile in the world. The LDP has long campaigned to replace the US-drafted constitution with Japan's own and made establishing a new one the first item in its new platform, also unveiled yesterday.
"We'll never wage a war, but we should clearly state a possession of troops for self-defence so they're not misunderstood as unconstitutional," Koizumi said last month.
The draft constitution also weakens provisions on the separation of church and state, saying the public institutions may engage in religious activity "in cases within the boundary of social rituals and customary activities."
The present charter totally bans the state from religious activity.
Tokyo's relations with Beijing and Seoul have become strained in recent months over Prime Minister Koizumi's repeated visits to Yasukuni shrine, a symbol of militarism.
Finally, the LDP's draft would also make it easier to amend the constitution, requiring only majorities in both houses of parliament to endorse a change instead of the current two-thirds.
But the requirement for a majority of the population to endorse any amendments in a national referendum would remain unchanged. Neither the existing law nor the LDP's draft stipulates the procedures for such a referendum.
The government must first enact special legislation outlining these procedures before proceeding with changes to the constitution.
The LDP will discuss the proposed changes with its junior coalition partner, the New Komei Party, as well as opposition leaders.
New Komei head Takenori Kanzaki said his party will come up with its own position on the constitution proposal by next November.
(China Daily November 23, 2005)