Japan returns to Afghan mission

In a victory for Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda after weeks of bitter partisan struggle, Japan’s Diet Jan. 11 approved legislation reauthorizing the naval refueling mission that the Self-Defense Forces launched in 2001 in support of US-led military operations in Afghanistan. Tokyo ordered its ships home after the original law expired in November and the opposition blocked an extension. The mission is to resume in February.

Japan’s Daily Yomiuri notes Jan. 12:

Following the bill’s rejection by a 133-106 margin in the opposition-controlled House of Councillors earlier in the day, the ruling coalition called for holding a lower house plenary session in the afternoon to use its two-thirds lower house majority to override the objection–a procedure used for the first time in 57 years, since the 1951 enactment of the law on motorboat racing. The bill…was then sent back to the lower house, where it was approved 340 to 133 with the support of the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, New Komeito… The president of the major opposition Democratic Party of Japan, Ichiro Ozawa, walked off the lower house floor just before the vote was taken. Ozawa reportedly went to Osaka to support a DPJ-backed gubernatorial candidate.

The Wall Street Journal gloats in a Jan. 14 editorial, “Japan Sails Again”:

From an operational standpoint, the role of Japan’s ships isn’t critical, and the coalition in Afghanistan has coped just fine in the past two months without them. But Tokyo’s participation had sent a strong message to friend and enemy alike and its pullout was a symbolic blow.

Under the leadership of recent Prime Ministers Junichiro Koizumi and Shinzo Abe, Japan began to accept more responsibility for its own national defense and to play a larger role in international security affairs. It remains to be seen whether Mr. Fukuda fully shares his predecessors’ vision of a revitalized, strong Japan, but last week’s vote suggests he understands what’s at stake.

See our last posts on Japan and Afghanistan.