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Mainichi: Hadfield on Nippon Oil,

Mainichi Daily News, Sunday, May 10, 1998

"With Respect"
by Peter Hadfield

	There was a worldwide fast last week in opposition to oil companies doing
business in Burma.  Among the culprits, our own dearly beloved Nippon Oil,
which does not seem to mind operating in a country famous for its
authoritarian government, human rights abuses and massive oil reserves.
	As he began his fast last week, Ken Kawasaki of Burmese Relief
Center--Japan in Nara issued a statement:  "By taking part, we here in Japan
are showing our solidarity and we're also extending the campaign to the
Japanese government and to Nippon Oil.  Our message is very simple:  Stop
supporting this murderous regime."
	Doing business with thugs may help Nippon Oil get its gas, but it is
obviously not very good PR, not to mention slightly immoral.  So why do it?
A company spokesman at first said it would be "difficult" to give me a
comment on why his company did business with the military regime in Burma.
When pressed, they offered up the following statement:  "Our business is
exploring for and developing hydrocarbon resources where these can be found
to exist in the world and providing quality petroleum products to the
people.  In the pursuit of this business, we operate in many countries and
encounter a variety of political systems.  Unlike many other industries that
often can choose sites for other operations, the oil industry must go where
hydrocarbon deposits lie or are expected to lie."
	Let's hold it there for a minute because the Nippon Oil statement is
starting to sound a lot like a statement from Atlantic Richfield (Arco),
which also operates in Burma.  Last week, it offered up a similar version of
why it does business with the military regime formerly knows as State Law
and Order Restoration Council (SLORC).
	George Ross, manager of Corporate External Affairs for Arco said, "You can
only find oil and gas where it is.  Unfortunately, a lot of the times these
are countries with rotten regimes that are politically repressive, that are
undesirable, but oil is where it is."
	Executives at Arco therefore seem top share with executives at Nippon Oil a
remarkable genetic trait -- an inability to stay away from prospective oil
sites.  Nippon Oil says it *must* go where the hydrocarbons lie, and Arco
seems to agree.  Yet other oil companies seem perfectly happy to stay away
from Burma because of the nature of the regime there.
	Nippon Oil says the type of regime has nothing to do with them.
"Regarding whether there is a violation of human rights, this is a political
decision and we believe such political decisions would be made by
governmental authorities.  It would be inappropriate that a company is
required to terminate operations in a particular country because advocates
for human rights call for sanctions against that particular country."
	What Nippon Oil fails to mention is that the democratically elected
government of Burma has asked them *not* to exploit oil and gas deposits in
that country because it is providing money for an illegal and oppressive
regime.  By doing  business with army generals who hold power through the
barrel of a gun -- rather than the government that was overwhelmingly voted
into office through free elections eight years ago Nippon Oil *is* clearly
making a political decision.
	Readers may want to put this to Nippon Oil directly by calling its public
relations department at (03) 3502-1124.  Please remember, though, that staff
in the PR office are extremely busy and may not have time to listen to
lengthy explanations about how the Burmese regime has employed slave labor
on oil and gas pipelines and how it imprisons and tortures opponents and
ignored election results eight years ago that overwhelming voted for the
opposition National League for Democracy.
	Nippon Oil's PR department can also be contacted by fax at (03) 3502-9351.
But, again, long faxes explaining the situation in Burma could tie up Nippon
Oil's fax machine and cause unnecessary difficulties to the staff and
company operations.  This would be very regrettable.

*Note:  The author refers to former Japanese prime minister Morihiro
Hosokawa, who recently announced that his withdrawal from politics.  Send
comments to the Mainichi at <mdn@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>.