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Komura favors flexibility, patience in Japan’s response to foreign crises

by Reiji Yoshida

policy

News photo
Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura gives an interview Tuesday at his ministry. REIJI YOSHIDA PHOTO
Japan has traditionally maintained diplomatic contact with Myanmar and provided limited humanitarian assistance, the opposite approach taken by the United States, which has banned all trade and financial transactions with the country."I don't think we can totally abandon the engagement – ,” the new foreign minister said in an interview.

At the same time, Komura stressed that the government will decide how it reacts to the Myanmar situation only after Deputy Foreign Minister Mitoji Yabunaka returns from Myanmar and reports to the Cabinet.

In any case, any action taken against Myanmar should help promote democracy, Komura said.

The military government’s violent suppression of peaceful protests led by Buddhist monks resulted in the death Thursday of Japanese video journalist Kenji Nagai, who was shot — apparently at close range — by a soldier in the junta’s security force.

Komura said Japan’s response should be controlled.

“You should get angry about it, but getting angry alone will not work,” he said.

Komura, who previously was foreign minister between 1998 and 2000, said he is shooting for a “middle-of-the-road” approach that’s tougher than China, the world’s largest aid donor to Myanmar, but softer than the U.S., which has taken the strictest approach.

Japan stopped engaging in new major official assistance projects in Myanmar in 2003, when prodemocracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested. Humanitarian assistance has continued, but to a limited degree.

Foreign Ministry officials say that while stopping ODA to Myanmar would be symbolic, it could also worsen the already deteriorating economic conditions of its people.

North Korea, however, is a different kettle of fish, said Komura, who was defense minister under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

He said Japan’s basic policy of maintaining both “dialogue and pressure” with the North has not changed and that major economic assistance will not be provided until the abduction issue is resolved.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda is believed to want a more conciliatory approach toward North Korea than did Abe.

And then there’s the missile problem. North Korea has reportedly deployed 200 Rodong ballistic missiles targeted at Japan, he said.

“We wouldn’t be able to give large sums of money in such a situation,” Komura said. He urged Pyongyang to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

Komura meanwhile acknowledged that Japan’s diplomatic approach toward Pyongyang could be affected by the recent easing of overall diplomatic tensions between the United States and North Korea.

“You shouldn’t focus too much on differences between the Fukuda and Abe administrations alone,” he said.