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Politics

China fears change coming to Japan's pacifist constitution

China Central Television reports on Japan's upper house elections held on July 10. The segment focused on Japanese voters' concerns over the ruling coalition and its allies considering revisions to the country's pacifist constitution.

BEIJING/SEOUL -- Japan's neighbors view the outcome of Sunday's parliamentary election with a mixture of alarm and expectation. Both China and South Korea worry about the implications for Japanese national security policy, but Seoul appears to remain inclined toward dialogue.

China fears that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government will start moving to revise the postwar constitution, now that the necessary two-thirds supermajorities have been secured in both Diet chambers. The worry for Beijing is that stronger Japan-U.S. pushback against China's growing maritime presence will frustrate its diplomatic and security ambitions.

The election was closely watched in China, particularly for the possibility that Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and smaller parties would emerge within closer reach of their goal of changing the constitution.

Abe's campaign strategy "has been to oversell his economic policies while being evasive about his true political goal of revising the pacifist Constitution," the Xinhua News Agency argued in a commentary published Saturday.

China Central Television aired video of Japanese voters expressing concern that the election would lead to changes to Article 9, in which Japan renounces to right to wage war.

China's government and ruling Communist Party had assumed a victory by the LDP and coalition partner Komeito, which is more inclined to add new articles to the constitution than to alter the existing text.

While some Chinese officials welcome the prospect of continuity in the Japanese government, many are taking a defensive tone on maritime tensions in the region.

"If Japan continues with polices against China on South China and East China Sea issues, we're far from a real improvement in relations," a diplomatic source said.

China will be watching for changes in Japanese security policy and to see how the debate on the constitution plays out in the coming months. President Xi Jinping and Abe will have plenty of chances to come face to face again this year -- starting with the Group of 20 summit in Shenzhen this September.

The view from Seoul

The Abe camp's victory Sunday came as no surprise to the South Korean government, either.

South Korean media speculated that the election results would thrust Japan into a full-fledged debate on constitutional changes.

Japan and South Korea had reached an agreement last December on resolving the long-standing issue of wartime "comfort women." Park had acknowledged the importance of cooperation with Japan on economic and security matters. Both countries share the challenge of a belligerent North Korea.

While the Park government remains on guard against what it sees as Abe's right-wing tendencies on security, Seoul "has no choice but to try to get along," a source said.

Seoul worries about the possibility of stronger Japanese demands to adhere to the comfort women deal. The South Korean side agreed to make efforts to resolve the dispute over a memorial statue that Tokyo wants removed from outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.

If Japanese politicians start venting frustration with a lack of progress, they may agitate the South Korean opposition parties and pressure groups critical of the deal. That would put Park in a tougher fight to ensure that her successor wins next year's presidential election.

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