After nearly a month of procrastination, Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu on Wednesday announced a carefully limited package of financial and other non-military assistance for the international effort in response to Iraqi moves in the Persian Gulf region.
Kaifu and his government rebuffed repeated U.S. requests for greater Japanese participation in the current Mideast operations, such as a naval presence, minesweepers, military airlifts or the dispatch of noncombatant military personnel.
The Bush Administration reacted coolly to Japan’s proposals, making it clear it believes Kaifu’s offer of help does not go far enough. Although Kaifu did not specify how much Japan would spend on its plan, Chief Cabinet Secretary Misoji Sakamoto told reporters early today that Japan will offer $1 billion to multinational forces in the Gulf.
Publicly, State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler termed the Japanese package “useful first steps” but said the Administration wants to talk to Japan about “further steps and contributions.”
Privately, some U.S. officials expressed their disappointment with Japan more bluntly. “It’s something, but we’re the ones whose (lives) are on the line, and they’re getting 70% of their oil from the gulf,” one Administration official said. A State Department official said, “We want to see the Japanese flag there (in the Persian Gulf),” and then added, “This is not what we had in mind.”
Japanese government officials characterized the prime minister’s announcement as a significant “first step” in Japan’s response to the Middle East crisis because it established a legal framework for action.
Japan’s postwar constitution--adopted while the country was under American occupation--has a provision prohibiting the use of force to settle international disputes. That provision has been interpreted to mean that deployment in the gulf of even non-combat personnel from Japan’s Self- Defense Forces would be illegal.
Instead, Japan decided to “urgently dispatch” a team of about 100 medical volunteers to the region; charter Japanese civilian aircraft and ships to carry non-military supplies such as water, food and medicine, and provide equipment to help protect allied troops from the desert heat.
“We sought every possible contribution we could make within the constraints of the constitution,” Kaifu said during a nationally televised news conference. “We cannot take part militarily, but we have decided to do our utmost to help maintain peace in the region in accordance with U.N. Security Council resolutions.”
The government also will pay for the chartering of non-Japanese aircraft and ships to carry supplies and personnel to the gulf--including foreign military equipment and troops. Japanese airlines and seamen’s unions had rejected the idea of transporting war materiel.
Also, economic assistance of “significant magnitude” will be provided to Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and possibly other gulf nations to help alleviate the damaging effects of the U.N. blockade against Iraq. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Nakayama visited the region last week and heard requests for billions of dollars in aid.
Kaifu said Japan would contribute an initial $10 million toward the relief effort for refugees in Jordan.
Over the past four weeks, U.S. officials have conveyed expectations that Japan would take a more visible role in the gulf. Michael J. Armacost, U.S. ambassador to Japan, has taken an unusually vocal stand in the Japanese media, asking that Japan “share the risk” as well as the financial cost, and warning that U.S.-Japan relations may suffer if Americans see the response as inadequate.
According to a State Department official, the Administration asked Japan to help the United States in four ways. He said it asked Japan for some form of naval presence in the Persian Gulf; for economic help to Mideast countries; for help in the sea lift and airlift of American men, women and materials, and for financial assistance for the U.S. military forces.
Of the four U.S. requests, Kaifu on Wednesday went along with two: economic help and help for the air and sea lift. But a State Department official said Japan’s offer to provide two civilian aircraft and two ships for the transportation effort “is far below our needs and far beyond Japan’s capabilities. . . . We’d like to see an increase in Japan’s airlift and sea-lift capacities.”
Taizo Watanabe, chief spokesman for the Japanese Foreign Ministry, said late Wednesday he understood the initial U.S. reaction was “positive” and that some U.S. officials “said they were impressed with the list.”
Watanabe compared the package to a “baby,” saying that it may look small now but it has the potential to grow in the future. He also said the government took into consideration the likelihood that Asian neighbors--victims of Japanese wartime aggression--would feel “uncomfortable” if a more ambitious plan had been proposed.
“This is the first experience in our postwar history to contribute to working for peace and stability in a region so far away from Japan,” Watanabe said.
He said the measures were a “happy compromise” aimed at high visibility but in an entirely non-military role--and one that goes beyond merely paying for the efforts of other nations.
Officials had considered a proposal to contribute indirectly toward the cost of America’s massive military deployment in Saudi Arabia by increasing the host-nation support the government pays for U.S. troops based in Japan, but that was not included in Kaifu’s announcement. Watanabe said the idea of increasing host-nation support predated the Iraqi invasion and was still under study.
As part of a strategic plan to protect oil supplies, Japan adopted a highly conciliatory posture in relations with Middle East nations after it was caught off-guard in the oil shocks of the 1970s. It kept a polite distance from Israel, opened a dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization and maintained friendly ties with both Iran and Iraq during the Gulf War.
After Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, Japan reluctantly followed the United States and the European nations in imposing economic sanctions and boycotting oil from those two countries. Like its allies, Japan had a large number of its citizens working and living in Iraq and Kuwait. As of Wednesday night, there were more than 400 Japanese being held against their will.
Schoenberger reported from Tokyo and Mann from Washington.