x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

In hard times, Japan can rely on friends

Japan has learned the lessons of its last disaster, the Kobe earthquake in 1995, and is ready to accept help from around the world, even from some of its traditional rivals

For decades Japan has been one of the pillars of the international community and a paragon of global responsibility. Its track record as a donor, however, has been far better than its record as a recipient. As the nation grieves over the loss of thousands of citizens and copes with the aftermath of one of the strongest earthquakes on record, a tsunami and a potential nuclear disaster, Japan requires the courage to ask for and accept assistance. The world is willing to provide it.

So far it appears that Japan has learnt lessons from its last crippling disaster, the Kobe earthquake in 1995, that killed more than 6,000 people. Japan was slow to ask for the help it required and unsure of what to do with the assistance when it arrived. The Swiss, for instance, immediately sent rescue dogs to help in the search for survivors only to have them held up in quarantine at the airport. International emergency responders who arrived immediately after the disaster were first escorted to their hotels and taken to lunch by Japanese officials rather than allowed to begin work in the rubble where they were urgently needed. Even offers from the US military to provide helicopters and cargo aircraft to Japan from their base in Okinawa were rebuffed.

Japan appears to have reckoned with these failures. The delivery of aid from all over the world has been swift and, so far, uncomplicated. Ninety-one nations and six international organisations have made commitments to Japan.

Many of these offers have come from unlikely corners of the world, where animosities rooted in Japan's imperial history still linger. South Korea, for instance, has sent 100 rescue personnel. The country's largest corporation, Samsung Group, has already donated $1.2 million (Dh4.4 million) to the relief effort. China, where Japan's wartime history is even more of a flashpoint than in South Korea, has sent cargo planes laden supplies and offered $4.5 million in immediate assistance.

It may be too early to talk about silver linings from a crisis of this magnitude. But if the relief effort helps to break down historical barriers that have long hindered Japan's relationships with its neighbours, some good can come out of this immense tragedy.