Curbing Japan's cars and prospects for boosting its military

How much will Japan's Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki be prepared to accommodate the US demand and desire for increased Japanese defense capability that is to be the major issue in his summit talk with President Reagan?

While current reports suggest that he will not make any "definitive commitment" in exact figures, it is clear that the US will find in Suzuki a more "flexible" negotiator than his predecessors in recent times. For the domestic climate has never been more conducive to a militarily stronger Japan.

Politically, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party enjoys a comfortable majority in the Diet that has been absent in the recent past. While Suzuki himself is known to be moderate in his political stand, the cabinet consists of more hawkish elements than did preceding cabinets.

The prime minister, who is by nature more of a coordinator than a leader, is inclined to "follow" the consensus rather than take initiative to assert his own position. And now, the party-cabinet leadership is dominated by hawks and rightists who share a Gaullist concept of nation.

While they remain proponents of the current US-Japan security treaty arrangements, they are the driving force to recreate a nation akin to what it was before the war. A variety of movements and campaigns are currently afoot that are designed to achieve such an objective. These even include a move to revive the "direct imperial rule."

The LDP is drafting a revised constitution which, among other things, would rewrite the war-renouncing Article 9 and restrict individual rights in favor of "public welfare." Even though Suzuki and other cabinet ministers have publicly declared that the constitution will "never be revised under the Suzuki administration," the party subcommittee in charge of constitutional revision is expected to "formalize" the draft by September.

Revision of the laws pertaining to the imperial household is said to be under "serious consideration" by a section of the LDP. Whatever is being contemplated , it is clear that should any revision be worked out it would be geared to "strengthen" the position of the emperor who currently is no more than a "symbol of state and unity of the people."

Advocacy of a conscription system is now a vocal topic not only in the conservative political arena but in the influential sector of the business community (Zaikai) as well as among leading uniformed officers of the SelfDefense Forces, including at least two former chiefs of joint staff. Revision of pertinent laws is being prepared by the Defense Agency which purports to allow the comandeering of private property and evacuation of inhabitants "in case of an emergency" at the stage the SDF is placed on an alert status. Under the current law, invocation of such measures is permitted only when troops are actually mobilized.

Another on-going subject is the question of nuclear armament. Even though the issue is not as vocal as other military subjects, since it is the most sensitive matter for the Japanese at large, the extreme rightists, including some influential politicians, are openly advocating the possession of nuclear arms as a "symbol of national power and prestige."

In another telling development, it has been decided by textbook publisher to scrap. "under heavy LDP pressure," the recently completed textbooks on civic education for junior high schools in favor of inculcating nationalism, patriotism, and the spirit of public welfare instead of private rights. Indeed these are the main subjects, plus anti-Russian slogans, which the rightist campaigners are daily shouting through public address systems mounted on motor vehicles and cruising the congested thoroughfares. In Tokyo, for instance, ther is not a moment when such a vehicle with deafening speeches, accompanied by war-time martial songs, is not seen in one area or another through the day.

Behind such developments is a society which has grown mor conservative than ever since the end of World War II. Now more than 80 percent of the 110 million Japanese feel they belong to the middle class. They opted to keep the status quo in the elections of the two houses last year and the performances of the counterforce were weaker than in any previous elections in the recent past.

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