I was interviewed recently by a British postgraduate student who was in Tokyo to write a doctoral thesis on Japanese policies relating to official development assistance. She met a Foreign Ministry official to obtain information about Japan’s ODA policy guidelines, but she said the interview was disappointing because the official failed to explain clearly rule No. 4 of the guidelines, which is on promoting democracy.

To clear the doubts, I later talked with a ranking Foreign Ministry official who has handled economic aid for a long time. I found out that the rule was extremely vague. As a Japanese, I was able to understand part of it, but it was hardly surprising that a foreign student did not understand it at all.

Rule No. 4 says that in extending ODA, Japan will try to promote democratization, assist in the introduction of a market economy and pay attention to the protection of human rights and freedom.

Answering my questions, the official said aid for promoting democratization is used to support public elections and to improve the legal and judicial systems. He also said aid for protecting human rights is not considered on its own but is studied from an overall viewpoint, which includes political and economic issues and bilateral relations. That is where Japan differs from Western countries in aid policy, he said.

Japan thus has no specific guidelines for aid to promote democracy. It is left to Foreign Ministry officials to decide how to implement such aid.

Japan is weak-kneed in its aid policy toward China, especially in connection with rule No. 4. A private advisory body to the foreign minister recommended in a report on aid to China in December that real debate should be encouraged on the ODA policy guidelines, in addition to economic and technical problems.

Japan should have stronger interest in human-rights abuses in China. News reports in January showed the following human-rights problems in China:

* An international survey showed that 77 journalists were in prison for doing their work, most of them in China, Myanmar, Iran and Ethiopia.

* Tibetan refugees in India were arrested while protesting against the visit of Li Peng, head of China’s National People’s Congress. About 130,000 Tibetan refugees under the Dalai Lama are exiled in India.

* The council of European Union foreign ministers published a report expressing concern over human-rights problems in China. The document noted that there were widespread restrictions on the rights of assembly and association, as well as religious freedom, in the country. It also called for the protection of human rights for imprisoned members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.

In February, reports from Hong Kong said Chinese authorities were moving to ban the cult in the special administrative region.

The Foreign Ministry official, citing the phrase “well fed, well bred,” said people will realize the importance of human rights when the economy thrives. He said Japanese cannot impose their moral standards on other Asians, considering the atrocities they committed before and during World War II.

His statement is ridiculous. Japan should try to compensate for its past deeds by protecting democratization and the protection of human rights in other Asian countries.

The Netherlands, the colonial ruler of Indonesia for more than three centuries, once froze assistance to that country in protest against the massacre of separatist residents in East Timor. Portugal, the former suzerain of East Timor, condemned Indonesia for its annexation of the region. In contrast, Japan supported former Indonesian President Suharto’s dictatorship for three decades as Indonesia’s largest aid provider.

Japan has posted amazing economic growth after the war, but has invited scorn from the rest of the world for its commercialism. During the Persian Gulf War, Japan’s generous contributions to the Western war efforts were little appreciated.

The report by the Foreign Ministry advisers recommended that China should be asked to disclose more information about its aid to foreign countries. In 1998, China reportedly signed new agreements to provide aid to 83 countries, apparently to rival Taiwan’s increasing foreign aid. Unlike Taiwan, China is a major recipient of aid. Japanese aid should never be used to support China’s military aid; Japanese taxpayers would never accept that. China should implement its foreign aid in consultation with Japan.

The vague ODA guidelines are also affecting Japanese aid to Peru. A report on ODA submitted to the Cabinet by the foreign minister last October said Japanese aid to the country in fiscal 1999 was implemented in a desirable manner under the ODA policy guidelines.

However, the report appeared to neglect domestic protests against the strong-arm tactics of then President Alberto Fujimori, which had been growing since he was re-elected to a second term in 1995. Last July, he won a third term as president, overriding constitutional restrictions. But Fujimori was removed as president in November by the Peruvian legislature and was forced to seek political asylum in Japan, following revelations of wrongdoing by his former spymaster Vladimiro Montesinos.

Although past developments showed Fujimori betrayed democratic principles, Japan continued to support him. This is incomprehensible. In contrast, the United States raised objections to Fujimori’s election to a third term and proposed economic sanctions against Peru at a meeting of the Organization of American States.

Japan has invited ridicule from the international community for its vague ODA guidelines. The Foreign Ministry is free to interpret the guidelines as it pleases as it seeks friendship with neighboring countries at all costs. I believe that Japan should enact the ODA basic law to allow free Diet debate on the pros and cons of foreign aid to certain countries.

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