TOKYO: The Cabinet on Tuesday approved new guidelines for foreign aid, stipulating for the first time that Japan can fund foreign military forces, although the assistance must be for “nonmilitary purposes.”
Some analysts call that a contradiction, saying Japan won’t be able to ensure that its overseas development assistance remains exclusively nonmilitary.
It is the first revision of the basic policy on foreign aid in 11 and a half years. The new doctrine declares that Japan will use its development aid to contribute to the global society in line with its national interest.
“Based on the new framework, we will promote more strategic development assistance and further contribute to the peace, stability and prosperity of the international community,” Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters following the Cabinet meeting.
He said Japan will strive to eradicate poverty by supporting high-quality growth in developing countries, strengthening cooperation with the private sector and helping to spread universal values such as the rule of law.
The revision is in line with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to raise Japan’s international clout through a “proactive contribution to peace based on the principle of international cooperation.”
The Development Cooperation Charter, formally known as the Official Development Assistance Charter, retains the principle that aid can’t be used for military purposes or to fuel foreign conflicts, though the government can consider aiding foreign armed forces and their troops under certain conditions.
“Where military forces or personnel are involved in development assistance for civil or nonmilitary purposes such as disaster relief, each case is studied specifically with a focus on practical significance,” the charter stated.
Independent analysts express concern about that clause. They said it is unclear how the government can prevent the aid from being diverted to military purposes.
“The sentence is quite vague. What does ‘practical significance’ point to? What is the criteria for studying each case?” said Eiichi Sadamatsu, director general of the Japan non-government organization (NGO) Center for International Cooperation.
He said the clause “can be interpreted in any way” as it fails to state the criteria that must be met.
Kishida played down such concerns, saying the aid will not be diverted to military use.
“The new charter retains the principle that [assistance]for military purposes, or which aggravates international conflicts, should be avoided. We will never offer aid for military purposes through development cooperation,” he said.
Sadamatsu called on the government to release more information about how Japan’s aid has been used and to improve monitoring.
By region, the newly adopted charter prioritizes Asian nations in light of their importance in national security and prosperity — especially Southeast Asia, a region where China’s influence is on the rise.
“[Japan] will support comprehensive and sustainable growth for Asean as a whole” by providing aid for infrastructure and reducing disparities across the region, it said referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The charter also calls for cooperation among private firms, municipal governments and NGOs, which increasingly play an important role in solving development challenges and contributing to sustainable growth in developing countries.