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Japan’s Diplomatic Predicament May Worsen With War’s End

February 27, 1991

TOKYO (AP) _ Japan, whose military has been conspicuously absent from the fight against Iraq, could suffer diplomatic fallout from its low-key response to the Persian Gulf crisis long after the war ends.

Its lack of on-the-ground support for the allied effort has prompted critics to call Japan a ″checkbook ally″ for promising money but refusing to participate in the anti-Iraq coalition.

That position has its costs, one of the most tangible being that Japan will be left out of the potentially lucrative contracts to rebuild Kuwait, Kuwaiti officials in Tokyo said.

The United States and other allied nations will be awarded most of the contracts for the multibillion-dollar reconstruction job, said Adel Hasan, first secretary at the Kuwaiti Embassy.

″Frankly speaking, it’s a matter of gratitude. Wouldn’t you rather give to someone who risked his blood for you?″ Hasan said.

Japan was prevented from deploying troops in the Persian Gulf because its post-World War II constitution renounces the use of force to solve international disputes. Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu initially promised to send troops in a non-combat role but abandoned that in the face of stiff public opposition.

Japanese officials acknowledge that Tokyo’s backseat role in the crisis will limit its influence and economic opportunities in the postwar Middle East. Japan imports about 70 percent of its oil from the region and has been involved in several major construction projects there.

″Japanese businessmen don’t want to be seen as wolves sniffing around waiting to grab big deals. We are very, very aware of possible criticism that we have been reluctant to contribute (to the anti-Iraq coalition) but anxious to grab contracts,″ said Mutsuyoshi Nishimura, deputy director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Policy Planning Bureau.

The government ″cannot accept the argument that other countries should shed blood, while Japanese should not. We are very aware that they are shedding blood,″ Nishimura said.

So far, Japan has pledged $13 billion in aid to the allied force and to Middle East nations hurt by the conflict. Financing for $9 billion of that aid has yet to be approved by Parliament, feeding the widespread impression that Japan is dragging its feet.

Keenly conscious of Japan’s image as a reluctant contributor, Tokyo is struggling to get involved in diplomacy aimed at rebuilding the region.

Yukio Sato, a senior Foreign Ministry official, is scheduled to go to Washington this week for talks on post-war planning.

Other Japanese envoys are visiting Middle Eastern countries, including Syria, Egypt, Saudia Arabia and Israel, seeking their opinions on what help will be needed after the war ends.

″We have to listen to what all the countries want. The last thing we want to do is to try to impose some thoughts on them,″ Sato said.

Japan’s relations with Arab nations on both sides of the dispute are likely to be strained, said political commentator Masatake Takahashi.

″From the point of view of some (pro-Iraq) Arab nations, Japan provided money used to kill Arab women and children,″ Takahashi said.

Israel is also upset because Tokyo has not offered war-related aid. In addition, Japan is cutting trade and financial dealings with the Jewish state as part of blanket reductions in business with the Middle East.

Still, Japan hopes that a quick end to the war will ease Western criticism of its refusal to put Japanese lives on the line. Vocal expressions of support from Tokyo for President Bush’s unwavering insistence on unconditional Iraqi surrender clearly were designed to deflect any U.S. criticism.

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