Monday, October 08, 2007

Has TIME (Where Else?) Correspondent Fallen for Deadpan Foreign Minister's Joke?

Japan May Stop Afghan Mission Aid

(TOKYO) — Japan would scale back its support of the U.S. in Afghanistan by ending naval assistance to vessels involved in ground missions there under a ruling party proposal that officials predicted Sunday would gain parliament's approval.
Since 2001, Japan's navy has been providing fuel for coalition warships under an anti-terrorism law that has been extended three times. Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda has strongly pushed for another extension to the mission, which expires on Nov. 1.
However, Fukuda has been forced to make concessions because of strong resistance from the opposition bloc, which took control of parliament's upper chamber following a massive electoral defeat for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in July.
A new draft law, submitted to the opposition Friday, would clearly limit the mission to naval refueling and supplying of water to vessels participating in the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom's maritime patrol missions in the Indian Ocean.
"Under the new law, there will be no refueling to ships providing support for ground operations (in Afghanistan)," Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said Sunday on a public broadcaster NHK talk show.


- TIME, 07 October 2007

Dang, we've been hearing about the new anti-terrorism bill doing away with "[non-existent] search and rescue missions, as well as [non-existent] humanitarian relief efforts", but maritime operations? Oddly, none of the mainstream media seem to be carrying the story. Doesn't anybody care anymore? So I wrack my brain all day, until I realize:

Afghanistan is a land-locked nation, hundreds of miles away from any serious body of seawater! In fact, it's hundred's of miles away from any serious body of water.

"Opposition lawmakers have also alleged that oil supplied by Japanese ships was diverted to U.S. operations in Iraq, triggering public outrage. "The government must more clearly disclose its activities over the last six years," DPJ secretary-general Naoto Kan told a Fuji TV talk show on Sunday."

Mr. Kan's low-key sarcasm does not come cross very well in print (you have to see it to feel the victim's irritation and frustration), and something is lost in translation, so I'll give the correspondent a pass on that. But where's the public outrage? Don't you have the presence of mind to quote a tabloid? Asahi? Actually, the relative lack of public outrage is something that has mildly surprised me through all this.

"On Saturday, the country's largest business daily, the Nikkei, said Japan was preparing to withdraw its ships entirely from the region because the government did not expect to meet the deadline — a report quickly denied by the Defense Ministry.
Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba reiterated Sunday the government remained confident it can win backing of the opposition, which controls parliament's upper chamber. "We believe the new law will be approved in the upper house," Ishiba told a separate talk show aired by TV Asahi."


Maybe I was watching a different Shigeru Ishiba, because the Defense Minister that I saw kept saying something to the effect that this was not the time to talk of an override, and that much would hinge on how public opinion would evolve. But I'll take it on faith that Mr. Ishiba did say those things. Still, when most people believe that the DPJ has little room for moving away from its opposition to the extension of OEF-MIO, it's odd that these statements could be left out there without any context.

"But Fukuda, who took office last month, has sold himself as a compromiser and promised to reach a consensus with the opposition over the Afghan mission."

Nobody believes that he has made such a promise. He's made a best-effort commitment, nothing more.

And why does the article end on this note:

"Japan also hosts about 50,000 U.S. troops and is working with the U.S. on a joint missile defense system."

So true, but what does it have to do with the context? This article seems to begin with a missed joke, and end in a missing point.



Seriously, could the Foreign Minister have been referring to Iraq? It is also important to note that, under Ichiro Ozawa's reasoning, the JSMDF should be providing support for ground operations in Afghaniston, but not for what Mr. Komura purportedly limited the extension to.

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