April 17, 2004
Hostages and Mad Cows
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The first three Japanese hostages are back, but two more (a journalist and a "civic group activist," whatever that is) have been taken, so I guess it's back to work for the government. Meanwhile, opinions in Japan remain varied but low-key on the long-term impact of the SDF presence and Japanese hostages in Japan. One young woman commented, "Those three people were doing what they wanted, even though the Japanese government repeatedly warned that Iraq was too dangerous a place to go to. However, Koizumi was the one who sent the SDF in violation of the Constitution. I wonder what he would have done if those three had died. Their release is good news and a lucky break for Koizumi, even though he did not recall the SDF."
Well, Koizumi is none too happy that two of the three released hostages want to go back to Iraq and continue their work. While the government got fairly good marks for how it handled the crisis, it remains vulnerable on the issue. Not too surprising, since most Japanese people--86%--will blame him for any deaths, whether they're SDF or civilians. He commented on an advisory by Japan warning Japanese civilians to avoid travel to Iraq, reminding the former hostages how much work they put the government through to get them back. "It doesn't matter how good their intentions are," Koizumi complained. "After this ordeal and having had so many officials working without sleep or food to help them, they still talk that way. They should be aware of their actions." One senior official, apparently on the condition of anonymity, remarked, "If they really hate to return to Japan, I want them to defect to Iraq. Since we've paid so much from the state coffers, I feel they should compensate us for it." Which makes one wonder if indeed there was a payoff. It should be noted that mostly the anger towards these dedicated people comes from the government, which has the most to lose politically.
Meanwhile, Japan is slowly opening the gates for U.S. beef to be imported into Japan. The previous reopening of the market consisted of allowing U.S. beef to enter Japan only if each carcass is tested for Mad Cow disease--pretty fair, considering that all Japanese beef must undergo the same requirement. Even so, this has not mollified the U.S. government completely, as it recently prevented one cattle producer that wanted to test their cattle for export from carrying out those tests.
Yesterday, Japanese government announced that it is loosening the standards a little, allowing cows younger than 20 months to be imported without any testing. Considering that only one case of mad cow disease has been found in America, and that cow was raised in Canada, there is the possibility that Japan is being a bit strict. However, there remains the question why the U.S. government is so strong against testing. If they are taking that stance out of principle, then OK, but if they are trying to hide more possible cases of the disease, then there may be reason to worry.