Most Japanese feel no sense of urgency about seizure of Kuwait, its oil

November 13, 1990|By John E. Woodruff | John E. Woodruff,Tokyo Bureau of The Sun

TOKYO -- Japan has yet to experience any national sense of urgency over Iraq's seizure of Kuwait.

That reality, clear in conversations with Japanese citizens, politicians and intellectuals, and in public commentary in the three months since the invasion, underlies the humiliation that Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu had to face last week in killing his own plan to send 2,000 lightly armed soldiers as a token of support for the U.S.-led force confronting Iraq.

"Is the world supply of oil so unstable as they say?" asked the Economist, a Japanese-language weekly magazine published by the Mainichi newspapers.

The magazine went on for four pages to say that, in effect, there was little for Japan to worry about no matter who controls the world's oil supply.

In the end, the article argued, "economic fundamentals" dictate that countries that pump oil can sell it only to countries that burn oil -- and that they can jack the price up only so high before alternative energy sources cut into consumption.

Similar analyses have been published almost daily in one forum or another since Aug. 2, when Iraq seized control of Kuwait.

These analyses form a stark contrast with the urgency expressed by President Bush, leading European politicians and most U.S. and European commentators, who tend to start with the assumption that Saddam Hussein cannot be allowed to gain control of too much of the world's oil supply.

They form an almost equally stark contrast with Japan's reaction to past oil crises.

Japanese referred to "oiru shokku" (oil shock) and raced out to hoard everything from bug spray to toilet paper in the oil crises of the 1970s and 1980s.

Since then, Japanese seem to have discovered that their country can survive gyrations in oil prices and have seen their nation consistently lead the world in reducing its dependence on imported oil.

This time, even as gyrating oil prices have devastated the values of shares on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, the Bank of Japan has stuck to tight-money policies to limit the inflationary impact.

Most Japanese have experienced the gulf crisis of 1990 mainly as the first time since World War II that their country has faced VTC the agony of seeing large numbers of its citizens held hostage and exposed to danger against their will.

Television newscasts have often been dominated by reports on the plight of the several hundred Japanese known to be trapped in Kuwait or Iraq.

The effect was amplified last week when former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone went to meet Mr. Hussein and brought 74 Japanese hostages home with him the day after the government decided to drop Mr. Kaifu's attempt to send troops to the gulf.

Japanese officials have insisted that the dropping of the deployment bill and the release of the hostages were unconnected.

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