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Prime minister: Japan must rewrite constitution, abandon postwar mentality

Prime minister: Japan must rewrite constitution, abandon postwar mentality

Japan must overhaul its pacifist constitution, beef up its international security role and free itself of World War II's political remnants, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Parliament in a major policy speech Friday.
Setting out his administration's objectives for the coming year, Abe put rewriting the constitution, bolstering Japan's security alliance with the United States and implementing classroom reforms that will instill a sense of patriotism in the nation's youth at the top of his agenda.
"Now is the time for us to boldly revise this postwar regime and make a new start," he told Parliament, which opened Thursday for a five-month session.
"It is our mission to create a beautiful Japan that will be able to withstand the challenges of the next 50 or 100 years," he said.
Abe's constitutional revision idea is focused mainly on eliminating a clause in the current document _ written by U.S. Occupation authorities just after Japan's 1945 surrender _ that strictly limits Japan's military to a defensive role and bans the use of force as a means of settling international disputes.
Abe said his is to free the military to assume a stronger position within the U.S.-Japan security alliance, and to become more of a player in global peacekeeping operations.
He also said there is a need for a stronger deterrent to the threat posed by neighboring North Korea, which recently sent shock waves through the region with ballistic missile launches and its first test of a nuclear device.
"Our alliance with the United States is a foundation of peace in Asia and the world," he said. "I believe our nation must make contributions that are commensurate with our international status."
Abe, well known for his nationalistic policies, has strongly advocated the constitutional revision, a longtime goal of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party, since he assumed office in September.
But the push faces intense opposition in Japan over concerns that changes may lead to nationalism like that of the pre-1945 years, divert funds to military growth and away from domestic social projects, or allow the country to be pulled into dangerous missions backing the United States in the Middle East or elsewhere.
Nevertheless, Abe said he intends to push through legislation, before the Parliament closes in June, to pave the way for the revisions.
On education, Abe said it is crucial that reforms be carried out to foster patriotism, eliminate the growing problem of bullying and improve academic performance, which has been sagging in recent years.
"It is extremely important for our future to properly teach our children these shared values," he said.
The "patriotic education" plan, while vague, has raised concerns about a rise in nationalism. China and South Korea, in particular, have criticized Japan's government for failing to fully atone for its attempts to colonize their countries and for atrocities its soldiers committed during World War II.
Abe has repeatedly stressed since taking office that, while Japan must remain a peace-loving country and reflect on the pre-1945 imperialism that left much of Asia in ruins, the nation must also strive to look ahead, and take pride in its achievements.
Abe, hoping to bounce back from plunging support rates in recent polls, is expected to face a difficult sell.
The parliamentary session is to be followed in July by a series of elections for half of the body's 242-seat upper house, meaning political maneuvering will be intense.
Support for Abe has been hit by scandals in his Cabinet, and has eroded steadily since he took office. According to the Asahi newspaper, one of Japan's largest, it dipped below 40 percent this week _ a drop of 8 percentage points from the month before.