After fumbling their response to the gulf war, the Japanese are scrambling to find a new postwar role to salvage their goodwill in the West. A diplomatic offensive has already begun: Former Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe wants to set up a $10 billion gulf reconstruction fund. Other politicians are searching for a formula to send civilians, such as medical and transport personnel, to support U. N. peacekeeping. And the Foreign Ministry is dispatching a team to look for ways to help mitigate environmental damage.
Such efforts are urgent, many Japanese feel, to counter resentment over Japan's failure to participate actively in the anti-Saddam coalition. The trick will be to restrain the nation's businessmen, who are eager to cash in on the rebuilding bonanza. Already, fears are growing in Tokyo that Japanese companies will be accused of trying to reap an economic windfall from the war. Companies should "try not to barge in," Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu told the Diet on Mar. 4, but rather should "respond if gulf countries make requests." And former Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita was quoted as warning business that Japan must give aid without commercial strings attached or risk being criticized as an "economic animal."