Japan's Response to Tsunami Disaster Should be Commended
John de Boer (Japan Fellow, Stanford University; Research Associate, GLOCOM)
The catastrophe caused by the Indian Ocean Tsunami has brought with it a wave of international solidarity unprecedented since the attacks of 9/11. Leading the aid and relief effort has been Japan, which pledged $500 million in grant money with extraordinary speed and sent doctors, aid workers and the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to assist in the clean up effort and help prevent disease epidemics from claiming more lives. Japan has also contributed greatly to insisting on the importance of the United Nations as the only organization that is capable of coordinating a relief effort of this magnitude. According to the Yomiuri Shimbun, it was Prime Minister Koizumi who convinced Colin Powell and the Bush administration to back off on its "core group idea,"a Bush initiative that would have done more damage by dividing the world in a time of serious need.
Much has been written about the political gains that governments are thought to be aiming for in connection with their relief efforts. Most news agencies and journalists assess US efforts in light of their desire to win the "hearts and minds"of the Muslim world. By demonstrating a show of humanitarian force in largely Muslim areas, journalists contend that the US is seeking to use this opportunity to improve its image among Islamic communities. In order to deflect attention from the late response of the US government, some American news channels such as CNN have started to criticize the modest assistance pledged by Arab and other Islamic countries. In reference, to Japan, many newspapers contend that a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and challenging China's bid for leadership in the region are the objectives.
Regardless of the political motives that may underlie the Japanese government's relief policy, Japan has portrayed a remarkable sense of responsibility to do the maximum possible to aid those in need and should be commended for its leadership. Japan's value as a humanitarian relief powerhouse is being recognized around the world and most importantly where it counts, in devastated areas.
What is worth noting about Japan's contribution is that it is not merely focused on short term assistance. On January 6, Prime Minister Koizumi specifically warned against the myopic tendencies of the international community so often demonstrated in places such as Afghanistan, which witnessed many nations not follow through on their original pledges. Koizumi insisted that the international community must be committed to helping affected countries rebuild and improve their infrastructure for the medium to the long term. Japan's call to establish a Tsunami early warning mechanism in the region is an example of Japan's commitment for the future security of people in Asia. Prime Minister Koizumi and his administration may be hoping that their efforts in relation to the Tsunami disaster will prove to the world that Japan deserves a spot on the UNSC, however, this does not take away from the fact that Japan's intervention in the aid effort has been critical and is worth praising.