Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has taken his quest for a more robust role in international affairs to the floor of his country's legislature. Abe says Japan's constitution should provide leaders with more strategic muscle in order to handle the challenges of the next 50 to 100 years. VOA Seoul Correspondent Kurt Achin has more.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told lawmakers in Tokyo Friday that he hopes to create a "beautiful" Japan - and also a stronger one.
Mr. Abe said in order to renovate the country there is a need to deepen discussion on amendment of the constitution.
He said the key elements requiring an overhaul are the pacifist clauses imposed on Japan by the United States after U.S. forces defeated Japan in World War II. Japan is constitutionally prohibited from using its military in anything but a purely defensive role.
Mr. Abe said Friday it is time to "boldly revise the postwar regime" to allow Japan a broader role in regional security and international peacekeeping. Japanese military forces have already begun taking a more forward role outside their national borders -- providing, for example, logistical support to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.
Mr. Abe said it is time to bolster the U.S. - Japan alliance, calling it "a foundation of peace in Asia and the world." About 50,000 United States forces are stationed in Japan to ensure regional stability.
North Korea's first test of a nuclear weapon in October has helped to draw attention to Mr. Abe's long-standing campaign for a more proactive Japan.
Here in South Korea, where President Roh Moo-hyun supports peaceful engagement with North Korea, leaders express concern about Mr. Abe's intentions. Some South Korean scholars warn Japan is using international peacekeeping and its alliance with the United States to rekindle its militaristic past.
They say Japan has not only failed to distance itself from that past, but continues to sanitize and glorify it.
Mr. Abe also said Friday that educational reform is one of his top priorities for the new year. He called for measures to foster patriotism, improve academic performance and eliminate bullying in Japanese classrooms.
He said he wants to build "reciprocal strategic relations with China that are mutually beneficial to the people of both countries", and to create "forward-looking" ties with Seoul.
Prime Minister Abe, whose personal popularity has slipped after just four months in office, said he intends to push through legislation formalizing his proposed constitutional revisions by June.