Tuesday, September 27, 2011

27/09 EDITORIAL: Noda must win public support for his U.N. pledges


Despite the unprecedented disaster caused by the March 11 earthquake and the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Japan will never become "inward-looking."

To the contrary, it will continue to contribute to the solution of world problems.

No doubt that was the main intent of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's address to the U.N. General Assembly.

At the outset, the prime minister presented three earthquake-related anecdotes:

(1) That an Indonesian nurse candidate and trainee in Miyagi Prefecture evacuated patients just before the massive tsunami hit;

(2) That Brazilian children living in poor conditions in their own country collected small change and sent the money to Japan; and

(3) That university students in Kenya held a memorial for Japanese victims, and sang "Sukiyaki," whose original Japanese title is, "I shall walk looking up."

And then the prime minister pledged, "These bonds between Japan and the international community will be forever remembered by the Japanese."

Postwar Japan, contrite from the country's experiences of World War II, sought to become a peaceful state and actively provided assistance to developing countries.

That so many countries offered to help Japan in its time of need is surely not unconnected with our half-century's worth of development assistance. Clearly, those countries appreciated our efforts.

That is why, despite our need for speedy recovery and reconstruction, as well as bringing the crisis at the nuclear power plant under control, we believe our country still needs to contribute as a major economic power to the solution of the many challenges facing the international community.

The prime minister made new international promises to:

(1) Contribute to the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS);

(2) Provide humanitarian assistance toward relief of the famine in Somalia; and

(3) Offer $1 billion worth of yen loans to assist the democratization process in the Middle East and North African region.

These efforts will no doubt help solidify Japan's international stature.

In contrast, the prime minister's statement at the U.N. High-Level Meeting on Nuclear Safety and Security was problematic.

He proclaimed, "Japan will send out to the whole world lessons learned through this accident."

We have no problem with that statement. But then Noda announced that Japan will continue to export nuclear power plant technology. He said nothing concrete about the nation's future energy policy.

Before leaving for the United States, Noda told an American newspaper that Japan will aim to re-start its nuclear plants "by next summer."

Clearly, Noda is trying to peel back the vision of his predecessor, Naoto Kan, of a country that is "free from its dependency" on nuclear power.

At an international conference in May, Kan presented an ambitious numerical target to expand the use of renewable energy. In comparison, Noda's speech was lackluster.

What does Noda plan to follow through on from the previous administration, and what is he going to change? The prime minister has a responsibility to spell this out to the public.

Domestically, debate continues over whether or not to raise taxes for reconstruction, or raising the consumption tax to fund social security.

For Noda to implement the overseas assistance he pledged at the United Nations, the administration must cultivate widespread understanding and support among the public. This is essential.

Noda's diplomatic schedule is over for now. Meantime, the budget committee in the Diet convened for business on Sept. 26. The debate there will be the prime minister's first touchstone.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 25

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