Aid from Japan?

PEACE is breaking out in a number of areas, and that is very good news. Peace will also be costly. Nations must be rebuilt. Millions of human beings - displaced, injured, left homeless or without their families - must be cared for and given new hope. The bill for this relief and rebuilding project will be large.

It is not too soon to figure out how to pay for it. A prime candidate to help finance this massive humanitarian effort should be Japan. Here are some reasons:

Japan has become rich and is easily capable of supporting the project.

Japan has cut its own defense spending by sheltering under the defense umbrella of the United States.

Japan's Constitution has prevented the dispatch of its warships to the Gulf, whence its oil comes, but has benefited from the efforts of others.

Because Japan has profited from the military exertions of others on its behalf, this would be a propitious moment for it to make an investment in peace.

A major international reconstruction effort by Japan would be good for its image.

Japan, though not neutral in big-power politics, sometimes has a credibility the US lacks. For instance, Japan was one of the countries that could quietly engage Iran in discussion at a time when Iran's relations with the West were minimal or nonexistent.

Finally, Japan has said it wants to play a more forceful role in international affairs.

Here is Japan's opportunity.

The scope for involvement in humanitarian projects around the world is about to broaden dramatically.

The torment of Iran and Iraq, in which about 1 million people have died pointlessly, seems to be drawing to an end. There are refugees in the hundreds of thousands. Farms were devastated, towns destroyed. Damage to oil installations is immense, and other industries were badly hurt. Presumably some oil-rich Middle Eastern countries will want to help, but there is opportunity enough for others.

The anguish of Iran and Iraq is closely rivaled by that of Afghanistan. Soviet occupation of Afghanistan has sent millions of refugees fleeing to Pakistan and secure parts of Iran. Afghan guerrillas are now busy harassing the withdrawing Soviet forces. But whatever the ultimate military or political outcome, there is an immense relief operation to be undertaken as refugees flood back to lands devastated by warfare and towns obliterated by bombs. The United Nations is asking for $1.2 billion for Afghanistan.

If current peace overtures come to fruition, there will be rehabilitation work in such countries as Angola and Cambodia. The South Africans and Cubans have agreed in principle to withdraw their confronting troops from Angola and neighboring Namibia. Meanwhile, if a political settlement can be worked out, Vietnam would withdraw its troops from Cambodia by the end of 1990.

The Philippines is another country whose economy has been devastated and in whose rebuilding Japan could play an important role.

The opportunities coincide with Japanese statements that Japan wants to play a greater role in world diplomacy and wants to disburse more economic aid.

Just last week, Prime Minister Noburu Takeshita told the Japanese Diet (parliament) of his support for the International Cooperation Initiative, which calls for Japan's leadership in efforts for peace, more aid to developing countries, and cultural exchanges.

Mr. Takeshita said Japan would double its financial assistance to developing countries to more than $50 billion in the next five years, up from $25 billion over the past five years.

Thus the time is ripe for a Japanese initiative on restoring the world's war-ravaged countries.

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