Japan aid pledge for Afghanistan - return to checkbook diplomacy?

Japan has offered $5 billion in nonmilitary aid to Afghanistan as it ends refueling mission for US forces. Some say that's more in line with Japan's pacifist Constitution – others see a copout.

In pledging $5 billion in aid to Afghanistan Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama meant to quell controversy.

The offer would replace Japan's more divisive program for aiding the war-torn country – a refueling mission for US forces that critics said betrayed Japan's pacifist Constitution. It was also supposed to reassure the United States about Japan's commitment to Afghanistan, three days ahead of President Barack Obama's arrival Friday.

But the announcement is instead provoking debate. While some see it as a return to Japan's more traditional role of nonmilitary aid, critics are calling it a cop-out.

One major daily, the Yomiuri Shimbun, warned on Wednesday that the move would open up the government to criticism. "Without SDF [the Self-Defense Forces, Japan's military] participation in antiterrorism activities related to Afghanistan, the government will inevitably face criticism that the country has once again resorted to the so-called checkbook diplomacy approach, in which it provides economic aid and investment but no security personnel," the editorial read.  

Japan's Constitution bars the country from sending troops to combat, a condition that critics said the refueling mission in the Indian Ocean violated. Under Mr. Hatoyama's government, which took office in September, the mission will end in January.

The US has urged Japan to uphold its contribution to Afghanistan, and their military alliance is a key agenda item during President Obama's two-day visit. Last month at a meeting with Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, Defense Secretary Robert Gates called on Japan to "implement strong assistance toward Afghanistan and Pakistan that matches Japan's international status."

At the time, Mr. Okada responded by saying Japan was "currently considering new assistance measures towards the two countries that utilize its fields of expertise, such as agricultural assistance and job training." Okada called the aid and the mission "separate issues."

In his first official pronouncements in mid-September, Hatoyama had emphasized that the government should focus in its first 100 days on assistance to Pakistan and Afghanistan.  

The aid is likely to be spent on medical and agricultural support, job training to former Taliban fighters, salaries for police officers, and the development of infrastructure.  

Under the new program, Japan will not dispatch any troops, Hatoyama confirmed. Critics oppose any military involvement, saying it violates the constitution, which renounces war. And Hatoyama's left-leaning coalition partners have strongly opposed such a deployment.

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