Japan OKs new aid policy seeking to gain more global clout

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TOKYO (AP) — Seeking more assertive diplomatic and national security role internationally, Japan's Cabinet on Tuesday adopted new guidelines for international aid that for the first time clearly state that it will allow provisions for foreign armed forces, although limited to non-military purposes.

And the guidelines say Japan should prioritize aid to Southeast Asia to strengthen cooperation amid China's growing presence in the region.

It says Japan should spend aid money more effectively to serve its national interests amid limited budgets and sporadic efforts to boost Japan's economy. Japan for instance plans to continue assistance for Caribbean island countries, many of them supporters of Japan's campaign for commercial whaling, a Foreign Ministry official said on condition of anonymity, because he made the comment before the official release of the guidelines.

The changes, the first in 12 years, are in line with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's push to bolster Japan's international role in diplomacy and national security.

"Taking into consideration that armed forces are increasingly playing major roles in post-conflict reconstruction and disaster relief efforts, we specified our policy regarding non-military projects," Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters.

The guidelines say Japan's pacifist aid policy remains unchanged and that each provision will be scrutinized carefully, although it raised concerns about whether Japan can ensure that the money is not funneled into military use.

Japan will also expand humanitarian assistance to countries fighting against terrorism, like the $200 million non-military contribution Abe pledged last month to six Middle Eastern countries fighting against Islamic State militants. Days later, the militant group demanded Japan pay the same amount in ransom for two Japanese citizens in a hostage crisis that ended with the beheading of both.

Abe's Cabinet last year eased a self-imposed ban on military exports, and adopted a new interpretation of Japan's war-renouncing Constitution to allow Japan to defend its top ally U.S. or other nations in case of a foreign attack. Parliamentary approval of necessary legislation is still needed for the change to take effect. Japan currently can use force only for its own self-defense.

With regional and global security environments turning more severe, the guidelines said no single nation can defend its own peace and stability by itself. "Development assistance is one of most effective tools (in diplomacy) and is significant as 'an investment for the future,'" the guidelines said.

Last year, Japan signed deals with the Philippines and Vietnam to provide coast guard vessels to help their patrolling in waters disputed with China.

Japan's Official Development Assistance budget peaked in 1997 at 1.17 trillion yen ($10 billion), but dropped to 550 billion yen ($4.7 billion) by last year, according to government figures.

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