Japan OKs use of aid for foreign militaries

Kyodo News

Posted at Feb 10 2015 08:22 PM | Updated as of Feb 11 2015 04:22 AM

TOKYO - The Japanese Cabinet on Tuesday adopted a foreign aid charter that for the first time clearly says Japan's official development assistance can be used to support foreign armed forces in noncombat operations such as disaster relief, infrastructure building and coast guard activities.

In the first revision since 2003 in reflection of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's push to make a "proactive contribution to peace based on the principle of international cooperation," the charter effectively lifted the ban on assisting foreign military forces with ODA funds.

"If the military or military officers of recipient countries are involved in development cooperation for the purpose of (improvement of) the people's livelihood and nonmilitary activities such as disaster relief, (Japan) will consider individual programs case by case, while taking into account the significance of extending such aid," the revised charter said.

Such a move could spark concern among critics who say the aid could be diverted for military purposes. But the government maintains its policy of not extending aid to foreign militaries by strictly observing the charter designed to avoid the use of aid to abet international conflicts.

Stressing that the government will not extend foreign aid for military use, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Japan has extended aid to developing countries on condition that it be used for nonmilitary activities such as disaster relief.

With the revision of the charter, "The government has now clarified this unclear position," Kishida told reporters.

The charter, renamed from the ODA Charter to the "Development Cooperation Charter," said Japan will utilize foreign aid more strategically and effectively to help ensure its "national interests" -- namely to maintain peace, security and increased prosperity of the country, achieve an international environment that is stable, transparent and predictable, and maintain and safeguard the international order based on universal values.

It is the first time that the charter has referred to national interests as part of the objectives in provision of foreign aid, according to Foreign Ministry officials.

Such thinking reflects the National Security Strategy, Japan's first comprehensive strategic outline adopted in December 2013.

"Addressing development issues contributes to the enhancement of the global security environment, and it is necessary for Japan to strengthen its efforts as part of its 'proactive contribution to peace' based on the principle of international cooperation," the strategy said.

"Japan will utilize its ODA in a strategic and effective manner," it said.

Referring to possible assistance to foreign armed forces as suggested in the revised foreign aid charter, a ministry official said that in some developing countries state-run services such as customs, immigration control and meteorological operations are handled by the military, and that Japan may consider extending aid in such areas upon request.

Asked about potential aid to developing countries for procurement of patrol ships to strengthen their coast guard capabilities, the official said the government will study individual requests case by case, on condition that such assistance will not be diverted for military purposes.

Last year, Japan unveiled plans to provide the Philippines and Vietnam with patrol ships to assist the Southeast Asian nations' efforts to strengthen their law enforcement capability in waters disputed with China.

So far, Japan's official development assistance primarily targets infrastructure building and poverty reduction in recipient countries, and is disbursed in such forms as loans, grants and technical cooperation.