The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 27, 2013)
Hostage crisis shows challenges facing Japanese firms abroad
途上国リスク 日本企業が抱える課題は重い(1月26日付・読売社説)

The taking of hostages by Islamist militants at a natural gas plant in Algeria has forced Japanese companies operating abroad to review their security management systems.

They have to strike a difficult balance between developing business opportunities abroad and preparing countermeasures against terrorism and other risks.

In the recent crisis, 10 employees of major plant construction company JGC Corp. and companies related to it were killed. On Friday, the bodies of nine of them returned to Japan on a Japanese government plane, along with seven survivors.

JGC has developed natural resources in Algeria since the 1960s. It does business not only in Africa but also in many countries in the Middle East, Asia and other regions.

JGC is a pioneering Japanese corporation in doing business abroad. Over 70 percent of its sales are earned in other countries. We have to take very seriously the fact that even JGC, with its thorough knowledge of operating in developing countries, could fall victim to terrorism.


Risks in developing countries

"[The hostage-taking incident] shows the challenge of doing business and securing safety simultaneously," said JGC President Koichi Kawana at a press conference. His words reflect a common challenge for other Japanese firms operating abroad.

About 15 Japanese companies have offices in Algeria. In other African countries that are also rich in natural resources and expected to grow economically, Japanese firms compete with each other in the trade, construction, automobile and many other industries.

According to a survey by the Japan External Trade Organization, 70 percent of Japanese firms operating in Africa said the continent will become increasingly important. But 90 percent said Africa had problems regarding political and social stability, which undermines security. The figures show the dilemma such firms face.

After the latest incident, Japanese firms operating abroad have taken defensive measures such as prohibiting employees from traveling to countries where security concerns are high and enhancing the security of their offices and plants. We think those are appropriate actions.


Coordinate with governments

However, there is a limit to the defensive measures a private company can afford to take. We expect companies to reexamine their security measures by strengthening their coordination with the Japanese government and the governments of the other countries where they operate.

Meanwhile, the government plans to review its own response to the incident while organizing a panel of experts to study ways to protect Japanese nationals abroad. It is important to discuss the risks in developing countries from a broader perspective.

We would like to suggest that both ruling and opposition parties begin talks as soon as possible on establishing a Japanese version of the U.S. National Security Council to enhance the government's ability to systematically gather and analyze intelligence on terrorism.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner New Komeito plan to discuss revision of the Self-Defense Forces Law. Though it is already possible under the current law to transport Japanese nationals on SDF ships and planes, the parties are considering revising the law so that the SDF can also rescue and transport Japanese people on land in other countries.

However, the advance agreement of the countries concerned will be necessary for the SDF to carry out such missions. The missions will also require a relaxation of the rules on the use of weapons, which is narrowly restricted to immediate self-defense at present. It will also be necessary to specially train Ground Self-Defense Force members in how to protect people in their care.

The ruling parties should have serious and responsible discussions of these issues.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 26, 2013)
(2013年1月26日01時36分  読売新聞)