Japan firms hunker down after Thai coup

Returning travelers say they felt no sense of danger in Bangkok

Kyodo, JIJI

Japanese companies in Thailand went on alert Friday after a military coup prompted some to curtail business trips and others to take steps to ensure the safety of their factory workers.

The Thai army staged the coup, the first since September 2006, on Thursday, declaring that the military and police were seizing power after two days of talks failed to reach a breakthrough in a months-long political crisis.

Among the many Japanese manufacturers operating in Thailand, Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. suspended night-time operations Thursday because of a military-imposed curfew.

For Friday, Toyota was planning to operate normally during the daytime and decide whether to continue suspending night operations after monitoring the situation.

Meanwhile, Nikon Corp., which has sales and manufacturing units in Thailand, has curbed business trips between Thailand and Japan since Tuesday, when the curfew was issued.

It is not known whether any Japanese firms have decided to send home the families of their Japanese workers from Thailand.

Department store operator Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd. shut its Isetan store in Bangkok at 8 p.m. Thursday, an hour earlier than usual, because the shopping mall where it is located decided to shorten the day’s operating hours.

On Friday, the Isetan outlet opened at 10 a.m. as usual but planned to close at 8 p.m. again, Isetan Mitsukoshi officials said.

The Japanese government expressed regret Friday over the coup and vowed to ensure the safety of Japanese people and companies there.

“It is an extremely regrettable situation. . . . We are strongly calling for the country’s political situation to be resolved peacefully through sincere dialogue,” Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Toshimitsu Motegi said.

Noting that Thailand is an important manufacturing base for Japanese-affiliated companies, Motegi said, “We will take appropriate measures for the safety of our people and Japanese companies.”

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida voiced regret about the situation in Thailand and said Japan “strongly requests that a democratic political system be swiftly restored.”

Japanese tourists returning from Thailand on Friday told reporters they found the situation relatively calm in Bangkok and said they did not feel that they were in danger despite seeing soldiers and tanks, and despite some disruption to public transportation.

A 24-year-old woman who arrived in the morning at Kansai International Airport in Osaka following a four-day visit to Bangkok, said she was surprised to see “tanks and armed soldiers around town” but was not alarmed.

“The people in Thailand were leading normal lives, so I did not particularly feel I was in danger,” she said.Arriving at Narita International Airport, Masaya Kitagawa, a 24-year-old man from the western Tokyo suburb of Mitaka, said trains were packed Thursday with people hurrying home early after the overnight curfew was imposed.

Travel agencies said they were worried about the impact the coup might have, but for now they will continue to arrange tour packages while heeding the Foreign Ministry’s travel advisories.

A public relations officer at JTB Corp. said the Tokyo-based travel agency had not received any tour cancelations yet.

Another Tokyo-based tour operator, H.I.S. Co., said it contacted every traveler leaving for Thailand on Friday to provide information about the situation there.

The government has so far received no information about damage or injuries involving Japanese residents or tourists there, Kishida said.

The government will make maximum efforts to ensure the safety of Japanese in Thailand by providing information and issuing safety alerts, he said.

Foreign Ministry figures show about 52,000 Japanese nationals were living in Thailand as of October 2012.

The Thai army declared a coup Thursday and took control of the government. A nighttime curfew was imposed across the country.

The Japanese government plans to urge parties concerned to resolve the situation as early as possible.

Economic and fiscal policy minister Akira Amari warned that Thailand could lose its key role in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations if the political confusion is prolonged.

The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is working to strengthen relations with Southeast Asian countries in order to deal with a rising China. Tokyo attaches great importance to ties with Thailand, a major player in the rapidly growing region.

“If the political turmoil continues, Japan-Thailand relations could be negatively affected,” a Japanese government official said.

On Thursday, the Foreign Ministry set up an office to gather information on the Thai situation. The Japanese government plans to ask Thai authorities to ensure the safety of Japanese nationals in the country.

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