Japan PM hints at amending pacifist constitution

Japan PM hints at amending pacifist constitution

TOKYO - Japan's prime minister hinted Tuesday he was moving towards amending the country's pacifist constitution at the opening of a new parliamentary session expected to focus largely on the economy.

Shinzo Abe spent much of his speech putting a little flesh on the bones of policies that have powered Japan's long-slumbering economy to enviable growth rates.

But in a short section towards the end, the hawkish Abe touched on his long-cherished desire to beef up the nation's military presence to respond to the changing world order.

"In the increasingly intertwined world, we can't ensure the peace of our nation without proactively taking a role in the peace and security of the world," Abe said.

"I will proceed with the rebuilding of diplomacy and security policy, looking straight at the reality of the security environment, which is getting more intense," he said.

Japan is currently locked in a standoff with China over the sovereignty of a chain of islands, and Tokyo has watched with alarm as Beijing's military might has grown over recent years.

Abe also promised to establish a Japanese version of the US National Security Council "to strengthen the leadership role of the prime minister's office in diplomacy and security policy".

The premier has long been agitated for the amendment of a key article in Japan's constitution that renounces war as a sovereign right and limits its military to self-defence.

But strong public support for pacifism has acted as a brake on his nationalist fervour.

Abe has previously talked of lowering the bar for constitutional change from the present two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament followed by a simple majority in a special referendum.

Detractors fear if this is achieved, it will allow him a freer hand to amend provisions restricting the armed forces.

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