Japan

Abe urges parties to present constitutional amendment plans as Diet session opens

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday urged political parties to present to the Diet their draft amendments to Japan's pacifist constitution as a step toward his long-cherished goal of revising the supreme law.

At the beginning of a 48-day extraordinary Diet session, Abe called for each party's "efforts to deepen public understanding" on the issue by presenting their concrete constitutional revision plans to panels on the supreme law in both chambers of the parliament — an initial step to constitutional amendment.

"Through such a process, I am certain that we can obtain a broad consensus beyond political positions of ruling and opposition parties," the prime minister said in his first policy speech to the Diet after being re-elected as president of his Liberal Democratic Party last month.

Although the LDP aims to submit its amendment plans compiled in March during the session, it remains unclear whether other parties will follow suit.

Abe is seeking to realize his goal of revising the constitution by amending the war-renouncing Article 9, which bans the maintenance of war potential, to put an end to debate over the constitutionality of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces.

But the process may face a bumpy road ahead as constitutional amendments require approval by two-thirds of both parliament houses and a majority in a national referendum.

As the supreme law that took effect in 1947 during the U.S.-led postwar occupation has never been revised, Abe has called on fellow lawmakers to deepen debates over the issue with the public.

A Kyodo News survey conducted earlier this month found 48.7 percent of respondents were opposed to Abe's move to let the LDP submit its constitutional amendment proposals to the Diet, while 36.4 percent supported it.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers his policy speech in the Diet on Wednesday. Photo: AP/Koji Sasahara

In the speech, Abe said he is aware of public concern about complacency in his administration since returning to power in 2012. "I am determined to brace myself to manage the government so that the people will be assured that the continuity (of the government) is a positive thing."

Having been re-elected for another three-year term as LDP head, Abe has a chance of becoming Japan's longest-serving prime minister.

On foreign policy, Abe pledged to "take stock of Japan's postwar diplomacy" and establish peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.

He pointed out that the Cold War structure still remains in Northeast Asia and reiterated his commitment to realizing the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in cooperation with the international community.

Repeating the need for face-to-face talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Abe said Japan will seek to normalize diplomatic ties with the North by settling outstanding issues of Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs as well as past abductions of Japanese nationals.

With Russia, Abe vowed to open a new era by resolving a decades-old territorial row over a group of islands off Hokkaido, called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, and then concluding a postwar peace treaty based on his relationship of trust with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Referring to his planned trip to China starting on Thursday for summit talks with President Xi Jinping, Abe said Japan will promote people-to-people exchanges between the two countries at various levels and lift bilateral ties "to a new stage."

As for the United States, Japan's most important ally, Abe promised to achieve results benefitting both sides in the upcoming negotiations for a bilateral trade agreement on goods.

Amid an escalating trade war between Washington and Beijing, Abe reaffirmed his resolve to take a leading role in promoting free trade through multilateral frameworks, including the 11-member Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and a free trade agreement between Japan and the European Union.

As the government looks to accept more workers from abroad by revising the immigration law and introducing new statuses of residence from April amid a serious labor shortage in Japan, the premier promised to ensure salaries for foreign laborers will be equal to those of Japanese.

The government is also seeking to pass a fiscal 2018 supplementary budget worth 935.6 billion yen ($8.33 billion) aimed at accelerating reconstruction operations in areas hit by a series of natural disasters earlier this year, including torrential rains in western Japan and a powerful earthquake in Hokkaido.

The prime minister is expected to take questions from party representatives over his policy speech next week, after he returns from China.

Opposition parties plan to grill Abe over his cabinet picks embroiled in scandals, including regional revitalization minister Satsuki Katayama, who is alleged to have accepted money from the owner of a manufacturing company in return for asking tax authorities for special treatment on the firm's behalf.

© KYODO

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