OPEN DOOR FOR RESCUES ANTICIPATED

Japan eyes SDF use of Singapore’s bases

Singapore is expected to grant Japan advance authorization for the Self-Defense Forces to use its military facilities for purposes including the standby of SDF aircraft and vessels, according to government sources.

Approval for using Singapore’s facilities would be pivotal in smoothing the way for SDF deployment in roles such as evacuating Japanese nationals from military clashes or conflicts in Southeast Asia and could enhance peacekeeping operations, the sources said Friday.

Defense Agency chief Tsutomu Kawara is expected to formally lodge the request during a meeting with his Singaporean counterpart, Tony Tan, on Tuesday, the sources said, adding that the matter was likely to be agreed upon during the bilateral meeting.

It would be the first time Japan had sought prior approval for the entry of SDF personnel and equipment into a foreign country in peacetime, the sources said.

They added that the government is trying to streamline SDF deployment to evacuate Japanese nationals from other areas in Asia, including South Korea and Taiwan, in times of crisis.

Tokyo has twice dispatched Air Self-Defense Force C130H transport planes to foreign countries to airlift Japanese nationals to safety.

The first occasion was in July 1997, when the planes were sent to a Thai naval facility after reports of military clashes outside of Phnom Penh. The second case was in May 1998, when the aircraft were sent to a base operated by the Singaporean Air Force upon reports of mass unrest in Jakarta.

In both instances, however, the planes did not evacuate a single civilian, largely due to problems such as delays in deciding to dispatch the SDF and in obtaining host-government authorization for use of the facilities involved.

In both cases the problems had subsided before Japan could evacuate its nationals. In some cases Japanese nationals left afflicted areas using transport provided by other governments.

As a result, the government decided that “swift, smooth dispatch” of the SDF is essential in rescuing Japanese nationals overseas, senior Defense Agency officials said.

The first request for prior authorization will go to Singapore because of the instability that remains in Indonesia, the sources said.

Kawara will leave for a five-day trip to Singapore and Vietnam on Monday.