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PM Abe announces intention to change postwar constitution

TOKYO -- Hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told lawmakers Thursday he intends to change the post-WWII constitution that imposed pacifism on Japan, in a move likely to stir suspicion in China and beyond.

Abe, who thundered to general election victory in December, has long harbored ambitions to rewrite a document critics say hampers effective self-defense, but supporters say is a bulwark against the militarism that blighted Asia last century.

“I will start with amending Article 96 of the constitution,” Abe told upper house lawmakers, referring to a clause stipulating that amendments require a two-thirds majority in parliament.

In the run-up to polls, Abe said he wanted to study the possibility of altering the constitution's definition of Japan's armed forces.

The well-funded and well-equipped military — one of the world's most technologically-advanced — is referred to as the Self-Defense Forces, and barred from taking aggressive action.

Abe said before the election that he would look into making the SDF a full-fledged military, but the suggestion sets alarm bells ringing in Asian countries subject to Japan's brutal military adventurism of the past.

U.S. occupying forces imposed the constitution on Japan in the aftermath of World War II, but its war-renouncing Article Nine became part of the fabric of national life, engendering a pacifism that remains dear to many Japanese.

Retiree Kazuo Shimamura said Japan's suffering in WWII, including from two atomic bombs, was reason enough not to change.

“I want the constitution to stay as it is to prevent new wars from happening,” he said.

But critics say a pledge that “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained” ties Tokyo's hands at a time of growing regional unease and amid a sovereignty spat with China.

“Japan's next generation will have to face all sorts of problems,” 60-year-old Nobuyuki Shimane said. “We have to take our destiny in our hands and change the status of the army to protect our territorial sovereignty.”

Abe told parliament he wants to set up a Japanese version of Washington's National Security Council, tasked with the gathering and analysis of information.

“It is unavoidable that we strengthen Japan's security arrangements to protect our national interest and ensure the safety of our people in the increasingly complex international situation,” he said.

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, listens to Finance Minister Taro Aso at the lower house's plenary session at the National Diet in Tokyo on Thursday, Jan. 31.

(AFP)

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