Blonds make bad diplomats, says Japanese minister
Justin McCurry in Tokyo
Thursday March 22, 2007
Taro Aso, Japan's foreign minister, risked upsetting his country's strongest ally after suggesting that US diplomats in the Middle East would never solve the region's problems because they have "blue eyes and blond hair".
Mr Aso, a straight-talking nationalist, said that the Japanese, on the other hand, were trusted because they have "yellow faces" and had "never been involved in exploitation there, or been involved in fights or fired machine guns".
Japan has healthy relations with Arab states and Iran, and imports much of its oil from the Middle East. Though it is a major contributor of aid to the Palestinian Authority, it also has friendly ties with Israel.
"Japan is doing what Americans can't do," local media quoted Mr Aso as saying during a speech about a Japan-sponsored investment initiative in the Middle East. "Japanese are trusted. It would probably be no good to have blue eyes and blond hair. Luckily, we Japanese have yellow faces."
Mr Aso, seen by some as a possible successor to the current prime minister, Shinzo Abe, is no stranger to controversy.
In 2001 he said that a member of the burakumin - Japan's historical underclass - could never lead the country.
He later angered Japan's indigenous Ainu population by describing the country as unique in being "one nation, one civilization, one language, one culture and one race". While economics minister, he said he wanted to turn Japan into a country where "rich Jews" would want to live.
In 2003 he sparked protests when he praised imperial Japan's often brutal colonial rule of the Korean peninsula from 1910-1945, and last month he described Washington's post-invasion plans for Iraq as "very immature".