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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:30 03/09/2007
Debate: Comments

Comments on the Kawai paper

Koichi MERA (Professor, University of Southern California)

On the Kawai paper:

In a short article, Mr. Saburo Kawai makes a point that Japan should continue giving aid to developing countries out of moral obligation. Certainly this is one type of argument that can be made. However, a problem with this argument is that it is not strong enough, and it does not give any specific indication as to how much Japan should give. In addition, the government organizations that are engaged in development assistance do not necessarily share ideals. I have not heard from any Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan declaring clearly why Japan should provide development assistance. Perhaps this is a Japanese way, not stating explicitly why one does anything. But to obtain public support, particularly when the economy is stagnant, there must be strong justification.

As the economy has ceased to grow and the general public has started feeling increasing uncertainty about the future, it is an excellent time to rethink Japan's official development aid policy. There could be three types of arguments: wealth tax, reparations for criminal acts committed earlier, and self-interest. Mr. Kawai's argument is in line with the wealth tax concept. But in this case too, we need to determine for what purpose we pay taxes: to enrich those in power in the receiving countries, to strengthen the democratic ideals in the countries, to stabilize governance, or to teach the Japanese way of working hard for development? A country that gives ODA must demonstrate a will to do so.

The reparations argument may be over. But the fact that Japan pours money into affected countries in East Asia may prove that it is still in effect.

The self-interest argument cannot be denied so easily, particularly when other developed countries are giving ODA to less developed countries. Looking at other countries, many are providing ODA to promote their own ideas of how the recipient countries should be developed. In the case of the U. S. it is a means of exporting American ideals of national development. ODA is a means of spreading U.S. ideals such as anti-corruption, democracy, public participation, and poverty elimination. It is more than a wealth tax. It is a means of improving the world in line with their own beliefs. As a result, the U. S. concentrates on technical assistance.

How about Japan? Is there any national ideal by which the country wishes to give? Is the country content with giving a tax to less developed nations? I think that this issue should be debated in Japan on a large-scale, involving the entire population. The difficult financial condition of the country provides an excellent opportunity for rethinking this issue.

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