Will Japan's new leaders continue to support US in Afghanistan?
Japanese Foreign Minister Okada said that Japan should focus on assistance to both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The government has not been clear on whether it will continue its refueling mission.
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A key question surrounding the DPJ has been its commitment to Japanese logistical support for US operations in Afghanistan, such as its refueling mission in the Indian Ocean.
The new foreign minister said Japan would not "simply" extend that naval mission. Many analysts have suggested that Japan will pull back from the mission early next year.
But Okada added that Japan should make its mark in terms of helping to stabilize the region. DPJ advisers have said that such help could take the form of medical and development aid.
"Under Mr. Okada's leadership, Japan will first promote humanitarian and reconstruction assistance in Afghanistan," says Toshiyuki Shikata, a law professor at Teikyo University and former lieutenant general with the Self-Defense Forces (SDF). "Then, the new government is likely to dispatch SDF troops to a relatively safe area in the country as a noncombat mission," says Mr. Shikata.
Such gestures would sustain the approach of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party, whose leaders have in recent years promoted greater Japanese engagement abroad. In addition to its support efforts in the Afghanistan war, Japan had 600 noncombat troops in Iraq for two years.
An expanded support role in Afghanistan could generate stiff opposition from many Japanese, as critics oppose the military involvement as a violation of the nation's war-renouncing Constitution.
But if Japan's Self-Defense Forces were to send troops to Afghanistan, they would operate under UN auspices, something that is more palatable to the Japanese public, says Shikata, adding that "I believe Mr. Okada's active diplomacy will also convince more people."
A year ago, then-Defense Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi also suggested it was time to pay more attention to Afghanistan. At the time, the DPJ was not necessarily averse to such an idea; then-party leader Ichiro Ozawa had already floated the idea that Japan should send SDF troops to the country.