|Subject: Asahi Shimbun: Troops Japan's best
The following article appeared on the Opinion Page of the March 24 edition of the Japanese daily, Asahi Shimbun. (Translated by Jean Inglis)
Does our international contribution in East Timor have to be the Self-Defense Force?
By KONNO Azuma (House of Representatives, Democratic Party)
The dispatch of Self Defense Force (SDF) troops to the United Nations peacekeeping operation (PKO) in East Timor has begun. The first contingent of 24 personnel arrived on March 4. It was about this time sixty years ago that the former Japanese army invaded East Timor.
Although offensive to Timorese who remember Japan's past war responsibility, some of whom have protested against it, the SDF dispatch will bring 680 personnel to the territory by early April.
This is the first overseas dispatch since revisions were made to the PKO Cooperation Law easing restrictions on weapons use, and the SDF personnel will be carrying 680 small guns and automatic rifles. It is entirely possible that these weapons will be used in East Timor.
Let us stop here and think.
Is the dispatch of SDF personnel to East Timor an effective international contribution strategy? Aren't there more peaceful ways of making an international contribution? The issue should be considered from the financial aspect as well.
Some 6.4 billion yen has been allocated for preparations for the SDF dispatch to East Timor. Earth moving equipment, trucks, cement mixers, etc. have already been purchased, and 2.3 billion yen is expected to be used for tents and for constructing pre-fabricated living quarters for the SDF personnel.
Separate from this, the expenses for maintaining the troops for a year in East Timor are expected to come to nearly 10 billion yen. Altogether, annually it will cost at least 15 billion yen.
The SDF engineering battalion is to repair roads and bridges. But is it only the SDF that can do such work?
The unemployment rate in East Timor is 80 percent. The many able bodied men with no work will surely have mixed feelings as they stand idly by, gazing on the Japanese in their fatigues doing road and bridge repair work.
And if that happens, Japan may not make such a great impression, and perhaps this will not turn out to be such a worthwhile international contribution after all.
Couldn't Japanese civilians and the local people be used for these tasks instead? If East Timorese were put to work under the guidance of civilian engineers from Japan, they would acquire skills. They would also have the joy of working and earning an income for their families. Isn't this really what you would call a true international contribution?
There are many road and bridge engineers in Japan's civilian industry. And there are engineers who are out of work because the companies that employed them have gone bankrupt. If you guaranteed them an annual income of 10 million yen each, you could put together a team of fifty engineers for 500 million yen.
And then why not hire 680 East Timorese for the work and pay them each 300,000 yen annually. You could include some of the English speaking Timorese who have been working for UNTAET, the United Nations Transitional Authority for East Timor. The pay for these local people would only come to 250 million yen.
It would also cost 1 billion yen to purchase the power shovels and other equipment, and concrete and other materials would come to 2.3 billion yen. But you wouldn't need funds to construct living quarters and for living expenses as you do in the case of the SDF dispatch, so you could do the same job as the troops for about 4 billion yen.
Not only would the bill for Japan be reduced, but this would be much more meaningful for East Timor than the SDF dispatch.
East Timor is a small country with a population of around 750,000. When Japan is able to offer it help to stand on its own feet, then and only then will we be able to be proud of having made a peaceful international contribution.
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