Two weeks since the tragic events in Algeria and it already feels like last year's news. Media moves on from one crisis to the next, and people's attention span follows suit.
I came to know about it as the news became a trending topic in Twitter Japan, very unusual since the top normally is 楽しみ (tanoshimi — a pleasure) (as it is right now) or anything as informative as that. The news was linked to a government communiqué about Prime Minister cutting short his trip around Southeast Asia and establishing a crisis center in Tokyo. While that is a common practice, I could not help feeling that some political opportunism was behind the reaction. Was all the fuss going to be used as an argument for a stronger Self-Defense Forces (SDF)? Did that make any sense?
I wonder if that crisis room in Tokyo made any difference for the lives of the workers in Algeria. The report in Asahi quotes officials saying that they were insufficiently prepared, that there were "not even a standard procedure for issuing instructions to the Foreign Ministry and the National Police Agency". What kind of instructions were they expecting to give them? Deployment? Did they have intelligence available? I doubt it. If anything at all, the crisis room is just a "security theater" to show the public that the government cares about its nationals —even if they are only there to see them die.
The crisis room is not the only option. Last July during the Ministerial Conference in Sendai hosted by the very Minister of Foreign Affairs, a crisis about the Russian islands in dispute erupted. In the breaks of the conference, the press was waiting him on the halls for giving his reaction, which he properly answered. Still, he did not abandon the meeting. Sure, the situation is not identical, but I wonder if the present government would have had a similar reaction.
A valid point — which Shinsaku made clear to me — is the problem of not being able to deploy airplanes to pickup the bodies of the victims. Restrictions for that kind of operations in the SDF are very harsh, probably to the point of non sense. And, sure, governments are supposed to care about their nationals and if they can or want to do anything to help them they may be entitled to try it — although I would not go as far as to justify compromising the safety of your beloved tomodachis.
However, as Shinsaku also points out, the case was not only of Japanese nationals, but of a Japanese company workers. He praises the professionalism shown by the company officials for...
No crying jags, no whining about how little the government could tell them about the situation in Algeria, no checking into the hospital for stress, no idiotic standing up and bowing to take responsibility for things they had no control over...
Basically, he prises them for not being the government and not doing what the government is expected to do. Foreign Minister Genba showed it is possible to do it that way.
He also criticizes the following:
The stoic yet caring conduct of JGC Corp.'s executives almost makes me forget Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's ludicrous reference to the dead workers as "corporate war dead" (kigyo senshi - Link - J) and the news media's attempts to make an issue out of one of those killed's having been a dispatched worker from a personnel firm -- as if we all bought in to the concept that the killing of a full-time employee was somehow less sad.
Totally agree with his point, any loss of life is equally sad. So, what about other JGC employees who were not Japanese nationals? Observe that the second highest toll after the incident was of Filipinos. But, why are we to name the dead for their nationality instead of their work affiliation? Why do we send company employees but bring back compatriots? I have not come across any mention on Philippine newspapers of companies doing the same there. Foreign personnel do not seem to deserve the charter flight and the caring conduct. What Shinsaku lauds is just part of the usual nationalistic kabuki.
It is kind of ironic that just one week later, the Asahi in its global edition published a special titled "Movin' out to Asia" about Japanese, among others, applying for jobs as locals for Japanese companies in other parts of Southeast Asia. It is a very informative, for example, to know that 2011 saw the largest increase of Japanese nationals living abroad (flyjin anyone?). Although you don't need to read it to know that people recruited locally receives way less benefits from the job. Surprising is that even then it is still an appealing option.
In one of the articles one Korean bureaucrat tells the journalist that "If people start thinking of home as where the work is, this will expand possible areas of employment." That new home includes the government and all their institutions, I am afraid. In the end, the hosts sharing their daily lives with the expatriates are the persons in the best position to help them, no matter how many crisis rooms or caring executives thousand kilometers away there are.
True, they are also in the best place to hurt them. It seems that someone inside the gas field helped the terrorists. The attack took place the same day that foreign executives were visiting the plant. But, it would take more than drones to deal with the people and the motivations behind such acts — you never know, maybe the very local hiring conditions are to blame...
This article has been written by:
Oscar A. Gómez S.