Japan must offer more than free gas

by Jun Hongo

The Friday extension of the special law to continue the Maritime Self-Defense Force refueling mission in the Indian Ocean will prolong Japan’s involvement in global antiterrorism efforts but both supporters and critics of the action agree the nation still has little to show for its efforts on the world stage.

“There are numerous tasks for Japan in the fight against terrorism. Extending the law is not the final answer,” said Yoshimitsu Nishikawa, a professor of international relations at Toyo University.

MSDF ships gave 10,940 kiloliters of fuel to warships from the United States, France, Pakistan and others operating in the Indian Ocean in fiscal 2008.

Both the defense and foreign ministers have upheld the mission as the pillar of Japan’s antiterrorism efforts, saying it has won high international praise.

But with U.S. President-elect Barack Obama expressing the need for a stronger campaign in the area, Japan is likely to be asked to commit more resources to the region, Nishikawa said.

“I don’t think it’s going to be easy for Japan,” he acknowledged, saying that while troops are out of the question, the Japan Coast Guard could be enlisted to help the MSDF enhance maritime efforts.

While trying to avoid pressuring Tokyo, Afghan Ambassador to Japan Haron Amin told The Japan Times that Japan’s presence “is a must” in the region and its efforts should continue as long as necessary.

“We welcome the decision but hope Japan can do more,” Amin said.

While acknowledging Japan’s constitutional restraints, the ambassador added it was up to Tokyo, and not the international community, to decide how it can further contribute.

“If they want to do more dispatch of Self-Defense Forces to Afghanistan, that would be welcome. Airlifting support in Afghanistan, that is welcome. Extending civilian teams, that is also welcome,” the ambassador said.

Those opposed to the refueling mission questioned whether the MSDF’s efforts are really having an impact on bringing peace to the Afghan region.

“Japan’s involvement through the refueling mission is pointless,” said Mitsuji Fukumoto, secretary general of Fukuoka-based nongovernmental organization Peshawar-kai. The government clearly has distorted perceptions on how it should aid the war-torn state.

“The situation in Afghanistan does not call for military engagement, but for better aid on food and water,” the activist said.

Fukumoto’s coworker, Kazuya Ito, was kidnapped and slain in August while teaching villagers how to grow rice and sweet potatoes in the arid land.

“Japan should consider what it can do for the people of Afghanistan based on its own will if it wants to truly aid the people. Sending MSDF ships at the request of the U.S. is not the way to achieve that,” Fukumoto said.