The government has dropped plans to seek legislation that would ensure U.S. assistance in evacuating Japanese civilians during emergencies abroad, Defense Agency Chief Fumio Kyuma said April 14.

Bilateral cooperation for evacuation of noncombatants is one of the main features in the updated Japanese-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines adopted last September to deal with emergencies in areas surrounding Japan. Evacuation was to have been included in legislation on implementation of the new guidelines, designed to allow Japan to better assist U.S. forces during emergencies that do not directly involve Japan.

The legislation is expected to be submitted to the current Diet session.

The Japanese plan was killed when the U.S. Defense Department refused to include evacuation of foreign nationals in a planned revision of the Japan-U.S. cross-servicing agreement, according to Foreign Ministry sources. The accord falls under the jurisdiction of the Pentagon but the State Department has power to give orders for noncombatant evacuation operations.

Some members of the tripartite ruling coalition expressed displeasure when they were briefed in the evening by officials of the Defense Agency and Foreign Ministry. “Should such a major issue collapse, the new defense arrangement would be strictly military-oriented, with Japan subordinating itself to the U.S. in emergency,” said a senior member of the Social Democratic Party.

Apart from the guidelines, the ruling parties are calling for some form of guarantee that the U.S. will help transport Japanese civilians overseas to safe areas when emergencies break out in areas surrounding Japan. The Foreign Ministry is seeking new arrangements to implement noncombatant evacuation operations between Japan and the U.S., a senior Liberal Democratic Party official said.

But the U.S. said it would be difficult to have an exclusive obligation to help evacuate Japanese civilians, according to the Foreign Ministry. None of its allies have such an agreement with the U.S., they said.

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