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[Opinion] The Generosity of the Rich

Posted December. 29, 2004 22:53,   


Japan has pledged 2400 tons of rice and 30 million dollars in direct aid to South Asian nations hit by the recent deadly quake and tidal waves. Japan was the first to rush a medical relief team to Sri Lanka. It also promised Indonesia that based on its experienced knowledge with earthquakes, it would willingly build a tidal wave warning system for free. “A huge tragedy happened to our neighboring Asian nations. Japan, as an Asian nation, will do everything we can to help them in this dire situation. We must act first even before they ask for help,” said Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura, stressing that this aid is a duty as a neighboring nation.

Japan sent three navy vessels of Japan`s Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to Phuket waters off Thailand. They were on an oiling mission for the U.S. military in Indian Ocean. This is the first time that SDF has been sent to carry out a rescue mission overseas. Some in the Japanese government objected to the dispatch of military forces, expressing doubt on its necessity, but were pushed by the Japan Defense Agency that kept insisting the duty of searching and rescuing missing people was too critical, a source said. It is not glad to notice the hidden purpose of the Japanese right wing, who are appearing to take advantage of the severe southern Asian quake in attempt to expand the activities and scope of the SDF.

The aid scale reminds me of an old saying regarding the generosity of the rich. The U.S. at first pledged 15 million dollars, but later increased that to 35 million dollars. There is no way to tell whether the U.S. didn’t want to look bad in comparison with Japan, but at least in terms of the amount of financial assistance, the two largest economic powers are again ranked first and second, as they have been on other lists. The EU pledged 30 million dollars and said it could mobilize more later if necessary. Australia, located near the hit areas, also pledged 7.7 million dollars, not losing face. The decision of Japan’s huge aid package must be partly from the calculation that it could serve to expand support that would be necessary for joining the U.N. Security Council.

South Korea has failed to keep the pace with other nations due to its late announcement for aid and its small amount of 60 thousand dollars. Later, it rose to two million dollars, but this is still not enough considering Korea’s close relationship with Southeast Asia nations. It may sound cruel, but it is true that the decision for the amount of monetary aid is strongly influenced by international politics and national interests. Of course, pledging too much beyond one’s ability would only bring ridicule in the international community. If the poverty is the reason, efforts to become wealthy should be done first.

Park Won-jae, Tokyo correspondent, parkwj@donga.com