Allies Across the Pacific? Japan’s Reaction To the Syria Issue

We'll see what they're shaking on next week.

We’ll see what they’re shaking on next week.

All of us are on edge right now as we wait to hear from Congress on the prospect of a US move against Syria. The rest of the world is feeling pretty pensive, too; take for example everything we’ve been hearing about Russia and Iran’s stance on the matter.

We’ve also gotten word from Great Britain that they will not be backing us on any potential military strikes into that quagmire. A big blow, certainly, but are we really (hypothetically) alone? Maybe not.

Japan has not been quiet on the matter. In fact, it has been somewhat of a negotiator with the Syrian government for a while now. Tokyo has been outspoken against attacks on Syrian civilians by the Syrian government since the 2008 bombing in the city of Damascus; terrorism in any of its manifestations has always been abhorred, of course. Japan also spoke out against the violent reaction the Syrian government had to the peaceful protests of March 2011, when the current debacle began.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Diet have been hard at work this summer trying to diffuse the situation in any way they can, unilaterally speaking. Abe reached out to al-Assad in June of this year, offering up US$10 million in emergency aid to refugees in return for that leader’s resignation.  No such luck there obviously.

Revelations of the (alleged) use of chemical weapons against civilians in Damascus have yielded additional concern from Tokyo, resulting in a telephone call between Abe and President Obama on Monday. Both men were in agreement that the use of chemical weapons is in no way acceptable and that something should be done about it. The issue is sure to continue to be closely watched by Tokyo. But there’s more.

This Friday, Japan’s LDP vice president and former foreign minister, Masahiko Komura, will be dispatched to Iran to discuss with government officials there the Syria issue and the stability of the region as a whole. This is a bold move in my opinion, and more proactive than usual for Japan. It does, however, have its own stake in the region. As you may recall, Abe recently established nuclear trade agreements with the UAE, Turkey, and the Czech Republic; it also relies on the region for 82% of its crude oil imports, which makes up 42% of Japan’s total energy consumption. This means Japan has much to lose by finding itself dealing with a region rocked by unusually unstable circumstances.

It is predictable that Japan will support of the US in any capacity necessary if it does indeed take a more aggressive step into Syria, and we will see if Japan will do more than just watch Syria with a careful eye. The details of Friday’s meeting in Iran should be telling.



Image source: China Daily