Monday, December 7, 2009

Japan examines Sudan and Mindanao policy

The main developments in Japanese-Islamic relations in the first week of December took place in regard to the Horn of Africa and the Mindanao peace process. Major preparations were also underway for the Japan-Arab Economic Forum of December 7th and 8th.

As for the Horn of Africa, the new DPJ government appeared to be formulating their policies toward this unstable region. There were comments by Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano indicating that Japan might send a several-hundred-strong GSDF peacekeeping force to southern Sudan next spring, although Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa downplayed the suggestion.

Meanwhile, Defense Vice-Minister Kazuya Shimba departed Japan on the 7th for an extended tour of Djibouti—where Japan now possesses its first overseas military base—and Bahrain as part of an inspection of MSDF missions in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden. Overall, Foreign Minister Okada, in particular, seems eager to have Japan participate more actively in southern Sudan, but Somalia policies have yet to depart from the lines laid down by the previous LDP administration.

The establishment of the International Contact Group (ICG) on the Mindanao peace process was formally declared on the 2nd with Japan as a key member. Peace talks between Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are scheduled to take place on the 8th and 9th in Kuala Lumpur. The ICG is intended to guarantee all agreements in the peace process of the two negotiating parties.

The MILF was particularly eager to see Japan as a member of the ICG due to the perception that they have played a fair-minded role in this dispute and have been a major contributor of crucial aid to the Bangsamoro people. It remains unclear how the massacre in the province of Maguindanao on November 23rd and the declaration of martial law on December 5th will affect the larger peace process.

Michael Penn
APP, Nonresident Senior Fellow
Executive Director, Shingetsu Institute

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