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    The new foreign minister

    The Yomiuri reports that new Minister of Foreign Affairs Nobutaka Machimura believes* the constitution should be amended in order for Japan to become a permanent member of the UNSC:

    “The Constitution should be amended to clearly position Japan’s international peace-building activities,” Machimura said at the Foreign Ministry. “The Constitution should be reformed because it is better to ensure that no confusion will arise when Japan fulfills its duties as a permanent member (because of a possible conflict between constitutional principles and the position),” he added.

    Last week, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi announced Japan would seek a permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council. Koizumi said the nation would be able to become a permanent member without amending the Constitution.

    Interesting. It’s hard to tell whether that could be a rift-making issue or Machimura is just giving voice to something Koizumi actually wants, too, behind the soothing public talk. The Nikkei print edition–it may be on the web, but I’m too lazy to look it up and happen to have it on top of the recycling pile–ran parallel front-page interviews last Friday with two business leaders on the hot-button constitutional issues. Kakutaro Kitashiro, the chair of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, said when asked about the amendment issue:

    Having no military power is a policy that doesn’t square with today’s international circumstances. Even a secondary school student must sense the mismatch with Article 9 [the article of the constitution that renounces militarism]. Amending the constitution is preferable to just expanding its interpretation.

    I’m partial–and not just for Japan–to that sort of thinking, too. Simply loosening the interpretation of Article 9 might seem like a more tactful way for Japan to smooth its way toward open super-powerdom, but there is no way in hell the rest of Asia will be convinced not to have a conniption anyway. Koizumi would probably have to bulldoze the Yasukuni Shrine, not just stop visiting it, to mollify the PRC on that one. But a clearly-worded amendment that gives the government leave to participate in ongoing conflicts but not to launch attacks might, conceivably, play well with others who could join together to lean on China a bit. (Nothing changes, but this time, it would be a good cause. I think the petitions of India, Germany, and Brazil make sense, too.)

    Speaking of bargaining with allies, the proposed US troop realignment is still a sticking point (this is from the Yomiuri article again):

    Japan has asked that the United States maintain effective deterrence through the Japan-U.S. security alliance in the area surrounding Japan, while reducing the burden on local governments where U.S. military bases are located.

    It’s not just the non-combat deployment of SDF personnel that has made things touchy with the public; a helicopter crashed in Okinawa two months ago, and the USMC’s clampdown on the wreckage was widely perceived as high-handed. The “burden on local governments” referred to above is a bit elliptical, but it probably refers to that sort of thing–the strained relations between US soldiers and the Japanese who live near their bases, I mean, not our helicopters constantly falling out of the sky. Machimura has plenty to pay attention to.

    * Like all links to the Yomiuri, this one will expire in a few days; if I forget to search for the Google cache and relink it, feel free to e-mail me.

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