- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 11, 2004

TOKYO — When President Bush was re-elected last week, some analysts here predicted his victory would mean extending Japan’s military mission in Iraq beyond its scheduled expiration Dec. 14.

It suggests that many Japanese think the Bush administration influences their country’s policies.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has indicated that he intends to extend the Japan Self-Defense Forces’ role in Iraq, despite stiff opposition from lawmakers and the public. About 550 SDF troops are based at Samawah, a city in southern Iraq, in Japan’s first military deployment since World War II to a country where fighting is occurring.

Although the Iraqi government declared a nationwide state of emergency on Sunday, Mr. Koizumi has said he still considers the region around Samawah to be “a noncombat zone.” Japanese law requires the government to suspend SDF operations in places that become combat zones or if Tokyo no longer can ensure the safety of SDF personnel.

The prime minister refused to withdraw Japanese troops last month despite the demand of militants who abducted Japanese backpacker Shosei Koda, 24. The group, said to be allied with the al Qaeda terrorist network, later beheaded Mr. Koda, whose body was recovered in Baghdad wrapped in an American flag.

Moreover, a rocket fired Oct. 31 at the SDF base at Samawah damaged a structure but did not explode. That marked the first time hostile fire caused any damage since the SDF contingent was deployed in January.

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Howard Baker said he asked the Japanese government to extend the mission.

“I think that Japan has made a major international statement by having the SDF there,” Mr. Baker said.

This statement was doubtless appreciated by the Japanese government, which seeks a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

“I think they have performed humanitarian functions that are much admired. I think it would be a shame if that was not continued,” Mr. Baker said.

In a poll last week by Kyodo News Service, Japan’s main news agency providing information in Japanese and English, 63.3 percent of respondents said they opposed extending the SDF deployment to Iraq, while 30.6 percent approved of the idea.

The same poll showed 64.2 percent of respondents believe Mr. Koizumi should rethink his position of supporting U.S. policy on Iraq, and 31.2 percent want him to continue.

Mr. Koizumi has enjoyed exceptionally amicable relations with Mr. Bush, but some critics accuse the prime minister of currying favor with Washington and not caring much about the Japanese public.

In June, Mr. Koizumi announced that the SDF would remain in Iraq after the turnover to a U.N.-approved interim government in Baghdad. But some Japanese were angry to learn that Mr. Koizumi told Mr. Bush of his decision at the Group of Eight summit at Sea Island, Ga., in June, before informing his own people.

Mr. Bush has not been popular in Japan — mainly because of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Japanese opposition parties have criticized Mr. Koizumi for strongly supporting the Bush administration in the war, and many Japanese were disappointed at the outcome of the Nov. 2 U.S. presidential election, say some political analysts.

Although U.S. and Japanese leaders appreciate the close relations of their two countries, some say Mr. Bush’s re-election guarantees more pressure from Washington.

The Japanese public “expects the U.S. to come to Japan for more military and financial help,” said Minoru Morita, a Tokyo-based political analyst and commentator for major broadcast networks.

Mr. Morita also said Japan’s political atmosphere has changed sharply since Mr. Koizumi took office.

The prime minister “comes to television every day to express his views. The mainstream media don’t criticize him,” Mr. Morita said. “We no longer have discussions on the idea of working for a peaceful resolution by nonmilitary means. The mainstream media dropped the idea. They have drifted to the right.”

Some analysts say Japan has fallen in line with the Bush administration and will be more willing to cooperate with Washington, especially on the security front.

“It’s clear that security relations between the two countries will be strengthened” during Mr. Bush’s second term, said Tadae Takubo, a professor of international relations at Kyorin University in Tokyo.

“The next four years could be a historic period when Japan breaks with its postwar past and becomes a ‘normal democracy’ that creates a true armed forces by changing the [war-renouncing] constitution,” Mr. Takubo added. What is important for Japan, the professor said, is how Japan responds to the ongoing U.S. military reconfiguration.

Toshiyuki Shikata, a professor of law at Teikyo University in Tokyo, agrees that the United States and Japan will increase their security ties. He also expects the U.S. military to use Japan as its Pacific hub because Washington will find it more practical. But SDF activities will continue to be carried out within the present constitutional limits, he said.

“It would be impossible to amend the constitution in four years,” said Mr. Shikata, who is also a retired general of the Ground Self-Defense Forces.

Many Japanese, however, don’t seem to want such a change.

A survey by the mass-circulation Asahi Shimbun in May showed 53 percent of 3,000 respondents said the constitution should be revised. But 60 percent of them said the war-renouncing Article 9 should not be changed, while 31 percent said it should.

Meanwhile, Masaaki Gabe, a professor of international relations at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, said he does not anticipate much change in U.S. policy toward Japan in the coming four years.

“There haven’t been critical issues brought up by either Mr. Bush or Mr. Koizumi,” he said. “What matters seems to be how the U.S. and Japan engage in strategic dialogue.”

Mr. Gabe also said Japan fails to understand why the United States needs the Global Posture Review (GPR), undertaken in Mr. Bush’s present term, but [also that Japan] places too much hope on it.

“On the occasion of the GPR, some people think Japan, too, has to do something,” perhaps by expanding its own military capabilities, he said.

The GPR and the redeployment of U.S. military forces in Asia “will be a long process, and it has just begun,” Mr. Gabe said.

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