Even After the Gulf War, Japan Debates Its World Role

JAPAN'S final approval of an additional $9 billion to pay for the Gulf war has not ended a debate at home over how the country can help ensure peace in the Middle East. Parliament passed the aid package on Wednesday, on top of $2 billion approved last December to help bankroll a United States-led victory over Iraq.

Japan is now grappling with whether its military, business, diplomats, and environmental experts can play more than a minor role in the postwar efforts. Accused of delay in promising war aid, Japan plans again to go slow in its postwar decisions. The task of achieving a domestic consensus, says a Foreign Ministry official, ``will not be easy.''

Japan took a backseat role as part financier of the war. Restrained by its war-renouncing Constitution, the country was left as the only big industrial power without a military presence in the region. (Germany sent aircraft to Turkey as part of a NATO force.) This has made officials wary of taking a too aggressive stance in reshaping the Middle East or rushing to win reconstruction contracts from Kuwait.

Japanese firms, for instance, have been advised by the government to go slow in seeking such contracts, even though much of the equipment destroyed in the war was Japanese-made.

``There is a widely felt sentiment in the world that there should be a clear line between those who participated in the multinational force and those who did not,'' said Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu. Business leaders, worried about appearing as ``economic animals,'' say they are taking a ``wait-and-see attitude'' on reviving business in Kuwait.

An advisory panel appointed to help guide Mr. Kaifu on postwar policy will not meet until the end of March. And Foreign Minister Taro Nakayama will not go to Washington to discuss Middle East reconstruction for another two weeks, although lesser officials have gone to the US capital. In addition, the $9 billion worth of yen will not be handed over until late March, and Japanese officials hope the US will draw it slowly so as not to affect the exchange rate.

In the meantime, government ministries and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are trying to reach consensus on a number of proposed measures.

One is whether the military, known as the Self-Defenses Forces (SDF), should be authorized to participate in any United Nation's peace-keeping force in Kuwait or southern Iraq. That idea, proposed in a bill last fall, was withdrawn by the LDP after strong public opposition.

But with the war over, LDP leaders hope to revive the idea, especially after they were able to gain the cooperation of two small but pivotal opposition parties in passing the $9 billion. One of those parties, Komeito, wants only Japanese civilians in such a UN force. LDP leaders are currently suggesting that only former SDF personnel and reservists can be included. A final compromise may not be completed until mid-April, says Mutsuki Kato, LDP policy chairman.

A plan by Japan during the war to send military transport aircraft to the region for evacuating refugees has been shelved, although Defense Agency Director Yukihiko Ikeda is trying to revive it.

Just after the war, the LDP proposed that Japan not give aid to any country that exports arms. But this idea was quietly shot down when it was pointed out that China, Japan's most important aid recipient, would be cut off.

Still, officials seek an international forum that would prevent conventional, chemical, or nuclear weapons-material from flowing into the Middle East.

``Japan, as a country that does not export weapons, is in a better position to talk about control over arms exports,'' said the Foreign Ministry official.

Several leading politicians are proposing postwar aid plans, with one as high as $10 billion. But officials worry that the public will not support higher taxes to aid Kuwait, one of the world's richest countries. Still, Tokyo has offered grants to Kuwait for emergency repairs to Japanese-built desalination plants.

Former Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita, an LDP kingpin, warned that all Japan aid should not be ``tied,'' meaning restricted to benefiting Japanese companies. ``If we don't do that, [Japan will be criticized as] an economic animal seeking profits regardless of how much we struggle to come up with the funds,'' he said.

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