Opinion: Akihito and Abe's different perceptions

Opinion: Akihito and Abe's different perceptions

KOREA - Many commentators here have taken note of what they saw as an apparent difference in perceptions recently expressed by Japanese Emperor Akihito and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe toward Japan's postwar pacifist constitution.

In a prerecorded interview released Monday in time for the emperor's 80th birthday, Akihito evaluated the constitution, under which Japan's military is limited to self-defence, as the backbone of his country's peace and democracy, and the foundation for its current prosperity.

On the same day, Abe told a Japanese public broadcaster that revising the constitution was his "life work", stressing his determination to lift the constitutional restriction to achieving what he saw as a more positive role on the global stage for Japan.

Observers here have since paid attention to the possibility of Akihito's remarks affecting the debate underway in Japan's political circles over the constitutional amendment.

Considering his symbolic status, it is unlikely that the emperor's wish will have a realistic impact on the political discourse dominated by Japan's right-wing conservative politicians. But Akihito's stance, which appears to be in favour of preserving the current constitution, may reflect the underlying sentiment of the Japanese public.

The pledge repeated by Abe, who marked the first year of his second premiership Tuesday, to increase spending on building up the armed forces has unnerved South Korea and other neighbours with memories of Japan's imperialist aggression. Many Japanese citizens may also feel uneasy with the direction in which Abe is taking their nation.

Akihito has impressed many Koreans with his sincere hopes for friendly ties between the two neighbouring countries. He paid homage to a monument for Korean victims coerced by Japan into forced labour during World War II on his visit to a Pacific island in 2005. He watched a movie about a Korean youth who was killed in 2007 while trying to save a Japanese citizen at a Tokyo subway station.

The emperor has also expressed his intention to visit South Korea along with his wife, Empress Michiko. All sensible South Korean and Japanese people should hope the emperor's wish comes true and helps set their countries back on track toward true partnership and co-prosperity.

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