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.
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.
The guidelines say Japan’s pacifist aid policy remains unchanged, but 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 the Islamic State militants. Days later, the militant group demanded Japan pay the same amount in ransom for the 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 US or other nations in case of a foreign attack. Parliamentary approval of necessary legislation is still needed for the change to take effect.
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.