Hostage situation puts pressure on Japan for military action

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, leaves the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015. A sunset deadline was approaching Thursday in the Middle East for Jordan to release an Iraqi prisoner or face the death of a captured Jordanian air force pilot, according to the latest threat purportedly issued by the Islamic State group. The audio message, read in English by a voice the Japanese government said was likely that of another hostage, Kenji Goto, was released online late Wednesday after Jordan offered to hand over the al-Qaida-linked would-be suicide bomber to the Islamic State group in exchange for Jordanian air force pilot Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated that the recent hostage situation in the Middle East supports his claim that Japan’s military needs to be more active overseas.  Opponents of Abe’s said it is another reason to be extra cautious.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the brutal killings of Japanese hostages Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa have raised concerns from both side of the prime minister’s defense policy and Japan’s alliance with the United States.

Social media sites linked to Islamic State distributed the video of the beheading of Goto over the weekend.  The news of the killing came during the start of a parliament session in which Abe was seeking support for his defense plan.

“Japan will resolutely carry out its duty as part of the international community fighting terrorism,” Abe said shortly after the nation woke to the news on Sunday.

The Wall Street Journal said the hostage-takers justified themselves by pointing to a $200 million humanitarian-aid package Abe announced on January 17 for countries battling Islamic State.

However, the thought of Abe working in alliance with the U.S., especially far from Japan’s border, leaves some Japanese worried.

“He may be talking about humanitarian assistance and nonmilitary aid now, but what Prime Minister Abe is doing is using the latest case to speed up and expand his drive to make Japan a nation that wages war overseas,” said Yoshiki Yamashita, Secretariat Chief of the Japanese Communist Party.

The hostage situation highlighted two specific facets of Abe’s defense plan. One was the aspect of allowing Japan’s military to aid multilateral forces fighting terrorism, through rear support such as refueling. Japan currently does not participate militarily in the U.S.-led campaign to curtail Islamic State. The second facet was boosting protection for Japanese citizens overseas. Japan could use the military more effectively for that purpose, according to the prime minister.

Abe has a comfortable majority in both chambers of parliament so his ruling coalition can easily pass the defense legislation. However with the vast public opposition, Abe is risking other political capital needed for areas such as trade liberation.

In a statement issued after the video was released, President Barack Obama welcomed Japan’s aid to the Middle East.

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