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Monday, May 19, 2008

JAPANESE PERSPECTIVES

Does Emperor pose hurdle to forming a common Asia market?


By MANO TERUHIKO

The slowing United States and its subprime-mortgage woes are promoting the need for economic interdependency in Asia, but various hurdles must be overcome before the widely diverse economies can further solidify regional ties.

This is partly because Asian countries have different political systems, and also because they do not have a firmly established common set of values.

We must also realize that, even today, the region's views toward Japan are by no means free of the aftereffects of Japan's wartime history. And I believe one of the reasons behind this may be that the postwar Constitution is not yet fully understood by many people in the region.

During Chinese President Hu Jintao's May 6-10 visit to Japan, the People's Daily ran a major article on his meeting with the Emperor, accompanied by photos. In fact, a lot of the media coverage in Asia tends to focus on leaders' meetings with the Emperor in Tokyo.

On May 3, Japan marked the 61st year since the the postwar Constitution took effect in 1947. I would like to take this occasion to spell out the differences between the Meiji Constitution and the postwar Constitution, particularly the changes in the Emperor's status.

Article 1 of the postwar Constitution says, "The Emperor shall be the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people, deriving his position from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power." In this light, it makes sense for foreign countries to pay close attention to their leaders' meetings with the Emperor. At the same time, however, Article 3 says: "The advice and approval of the Cabinet shall be required for all acts of the Emperor in matters of state and the Cabinet shall be responsible thereafter.

I suspect that in many Asian countries, the wartime image of the Emperor — defined as the supreme commander under the Meiji Constitution at the time — still lingers. This is preventing people in other parts of Asia from fully recognizing the major difference in the Emperor's status under the postwar Constitution.

This is perhaps one of the reasons the Emperor's meetings with foreign guests always get wide overseas coverage, as well as why demands continue to ring out for the Emperor to apologize for the war — even though Japanese leaders, including Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, have in fact apologized for Japan's wartime acts.

Article 1 of the Meiji Constitution says, "The Empire of Japan shall be reigned over and governed by a line of Emperors unbroken for ages eternal." Article 3 says the Emperor is a "sacred and inviolable" and Article 11 goes on to say that the Emperor "has the supreme command of the Army and Navy."

Before the war's end, many Cabinets collapsed after the army refused to recommend an army minister because of these constitutional provisions. I strongly hope that people around the world, particularly those in Asia, will correctly understand the big differences in status and power accorded the Emperor under the old and new Constitutions.

One reason why the Emperor's powers appear intact is because both the old and new Constitutions mention him in Article 1.

Today, it is widely known that this was the result of a debate between the Occupation forces and the Japanese government over how to frame the national polity in the wake of Japan's defeat.

In the six decades since since the postwar Constitution took force, the international circumstances surrounding Japan have changed in various aspects.

Last year, a law was enacted to spell out the legal procedures for holding a referendum on amending the Constitution. The changes in Japan's situation warrant some amendments, and in addition to Article 9 and various other provisions, I would suggest that Article 1 also be revised to declare — as mentioned in the preamble and the latter part of the first article — that the sovereign power of Japan resides with the people.

I believe such an amendment would clarify the Emperor's status under the current Constitution.

As globalization continues to progress, the Asian economies are expected to become increasingly dependent on each other. To stabilize that process and even propel it toward the creation of a common market, the countries in the region need to understand each other's situations and political systems.

Japan should use Constitution Day to continually clarify the Constitution, not just for its people, but for Asia and the rest of the world.

Teruhiko Mano is a professor at Seigakuin University Graduate School.


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