Questions raised over Japan’s crisis management system

The hostage crisis in Lima ended with the release of all but one of the hostages by Peruvian forces, but questions have been raised about Japan’s readiness to deal with a similar situation in the future.

The Japan Times interviewed scholars and experts April 23 about their views on the more than four-month-long hostage standoff and Tokyo’s crisis management system.

Isao Itabashi, a senior analyst specializing in crisis management at the Council for Public Policy, believes Japan needs to review its attitude as well as its policies to deal with terrorism because its handling of the situation may have created the impression that Tokyo is not tough enough on terrorism. Although Japan signed an antiterrorism declaration by the Group of Seven industrialized nations last June, it did not necessarily act according to its principles, he said.

Itabashi said that by proposing that a solution be reached through peaceful dialogue between the rebels of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement and the Peruvian government, Japan was, in a strange way, behaving too gentlemanly in its dealings with the rebel group. Commenting on why Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori did not inform Hashimoto of his decision to take military action, Itabashi said Fujimori probably believed that Hashimoto would forbid any such attack.

Itabashi and others say that if the hostage incident had been resolved in a peaceful manner, such as the hostage takers being provided with a safe escape to a third country, other terrorist groups would have seen Japan as a viable potential target. But Shigeru Osonoi, an associate professor of Latin American studies at Nanzan University, said Japan was right to seek a peaceful solution through dialogue whenever the Peruvian side seemed to be leaning toward the use of force. Nevertheless, he said, viewed from another angle, the Japanese attitude could have been taken by the hostage-takers as a de facto guarantee that no attacks would be launched against the rebel group as long as they, in turn, did not injure their 72 hostages.

A former senior member of staff at the Prime Minister’s Office said the government needs to thoroughly examine the weak points of its crisis management plans. For instance, he said the government needs to consider why Hashimoto had to go to the Foreign Ministry’s operation center almost every day in December to get any information, even though a room for crisis management was established last year in an annex of the Prime Minister’s Official Residence following the Great Hanshin Earthquake of January 1995 and a series of attacks allegedly carried out by Aum Shinrikyo the same year.

Under the current system, important information is not necessarily passed on to the Prime Minister’s Office swiftly because each ministry tends to retain its own information, he said.