Abe pledges $75m for Syria crisis in UN speech

NEW YORK - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to extend additional humanitarian assistance of $60 million (S$75 million) to Syria and its neighbouring countries at the UN General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York on Thursday.

"With the despair of the refugees now escalating as they head for a harsh winter, I would like to announce that the government of Japan will newly provide additional humanitarian assistance to Syria and surrounding countries of approximately $60 million and implement it right away," Abe said during his speech to the general debate of the 68th session of the assembly.

Before making the pledge, Abe condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

"The use of chemical weapons has aroused profound shock and anger in the people in Japan, including myself. Chemical weapons must never be used again. I hereby declare that Japan will provide thorough support and the greatest possible cooperation toward the international community's efforts to dispose of Syria's chemical weapons," he said.

Abe also said, "Japan will newly bear the flag of 'Proactive Contribution to Peace,'" and added that he will enable Japan to be "even more actively engaged in UN collective security measures, including peacekeeping operations."

His remarks indicate that he will work toward a shift in Japan's security policy through a review of constitutional interpretations on the right to collective self-defence, among other means.

Abe also stressed that Japan's aspiration to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council "has not changed in the slightest."

With ongoing confrontations with China over the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture in mind, Abe said, "For Japan, whose national interests are firmly connected to the stability of seas that are open, changes to the maritime order through the use of force or coercion cannot be condoned under any circumstances."

To realise a "society in which women shine," Abe said, "Japan intends to make efforts toward measures that will ensure the participation of women at all stages, including the prevention and resolution of conflicts as well as peace-building, and that will also safeguard the rights and the physical well-being of women who are exposed to danger in times of conflict."

He revealed that the government will implement official development assistance "in excess of $3 billion over the next three years," toward promoting women's participation in society in the field of health and medical care for women, as well as protecting women.

Abe devoted more than half of his 15-minute speech to issues regarding women's rights, which indicates his intention to appeal to the United States, where there is great interest in women's issues.