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Home >> Opinion
UPDATED: 14:24, September 24, 2004
Chinese paper says Japan's check cannot buy UN seat
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Japan has been feverishly knocking at the United Nations (UN) Security Council's door.

In his speech to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi attempted to convince the world that his country richly deserves a place among the existing permanent members or P5, namely the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France.

He stressed Japan's peace efforts but withheld mention of its restrictive pacifist constitution.

Koizumi, who has been somewhat cautious in the past about permanent membership in the UN Security Council, now says Japan "should have a greater say in the international community."

A pillar of its foreign policy for more than a decade, the country has campaigned long and hard to promote itself to the Council full-time.

It expressed its burning desire to become a veto-wielding member of the Council for the first time in a 1994 UN speech by then Foreign Minister Yohei Kono.

Current Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi also outlined Japan's basic stance at last year's General Assembly session that Japan was "willing to fulfil its responsibilities more positively as a permanent member of the Security Council."

Japan's push for a seat on the Council comes at a time when reform is high on the UN's agenda.

After 60 years of development, the UN is in desperate need of reform to adapt itself to the needs of a changed global picture.

Reform of the Security Council, including possible expansion of its membership, has been discussed since 1993 by a special task force set up under the UN General Assembly. Sharp schisms remain over such thorny questions as which nations deserve permanent seats, how far to expand the make-up of the Council and whether new permanent members should be granted veto power.

Japan, Brazil, Germany and India formed a lobbying group on Tuesday to help one another get permanent seats on the Council.

The four nations organized themselves this year because members of a high-level panel, appointed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan last autumn, will present recommendations on how the UN can transform itself in December.

With 2005 marking the 60th anniversary of the UN, the Japanese Government hopes to capitalize on the growing momentum for UN reform to gain a permanent seat.

As the world's second-largest economy, there is no doubt that Japan should play a larger international role.

This does not necessarily mean, however, that it should take a permanent seat on the Council.

Despite all the diplomatic niceties, analysts do not paint a rosy picture for Japan's efforts to gain a permanent seat.

The UN reform aims at enlarging the Council to command greater respect, especially in the developing world.

Japan would not be able to press for membership on the basis of geographical diversity, or on the basis of being a developing state.

Moreover, expansion of the Security Council would require a revision to the UN Charter, supported by all five permanent members, as well as at least a two-thirds majority of the General Assembly. Tokyo, of course, has no qualms about changing the UN Charter, especially the enemy-nation clause that approves the use of force against the losing nations in World War II - Japan, Germany and Italy.

In principle, there is nothing objectionable about the Japanese Government's explanation: Japan's bid for permanent membership is based on its contributions to international peace.

Tokyo believes that having a permanent seat on the Council is natural given its financial contributions to the UN.

The Japanese Government argues it continues to have the largest programme for official development assistance (ODA), with support reaching some 160 countries in the world.

Currently, Japan contributes to nearly 20 per cent of the UN's general budget, more than any other country except the United States. As a result, the island country claims it should therefore have a say in the UN's inner councils commensurate with the size of its checks.

The country has in fact murmured "no taxation without representation."

In March 2000, younger, more impatient political leaders from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party even proposed using the country's economic power as leverage threatening to scale back Japan's ODA and reducing its voluntary contributions to the UN unless it is made a permanent member of the Council in the near future.

It has thus been slammed for resorting to "chequebook diplomacy."

Japan was also censured for pressuring aid recipients, mostly poorer developing nations in Africa, to cast their votes in favour of Japan.

When Japan's Hiroshi Nakajima ran for a second term as Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1993, the elections were marred by a vote-buying scandal.

Although the country has aggressively used its financial clout to push for high-ranking jobs in the UN system in the past, it has failed to get the necessary support to clinch a permanent seat on the Security Council.

There is obviously a limit to what money can and cannot buy. Japan's unsuccessful bid for a permanent seat is an indication of where one could draw the line.

The permanent seats on the Council are not up for sale.

There should be no abusive linkage between contributions and attribution of the permanent seats.

In practice, Japan's bid for permanent Security Council membership has been a lightning rod for controversy, particularly in view of renewed calls for revising the war-renouncing Article 9 of its constitution as a stepping stone to membership.

Although Japan has long sought permanent membership, Koizumi has never before expressed Tokyo's desire directly at the UN out of concern that membership would entail agreeing to the use of force to settle international conflicts.

Nevertheless, Koizumi decided last month that Japan should declare its intention to secure a permanent seat without constitutional changes.

The nation's pacifist constitution, the foundation for the country's postwar political structure, clearly stipulates that Tokyo only has power for a self-defence force and cannot develop an army.

More specifically, Article 9 states that Japan renounces the use of force as a means to settle international rifts.

UN Security Council membership means member nations shoulder obligations for maintaining world peace, even by force, if necessary.

How can Japan play such a role in the UN, as Tokyo explained, while living up to the constitutional clause that says the nation will not use force as a means of settling international disputes?

In fact, Japan's Self-Defence Forces (SDF) deployments since the 1991 Gulf War have raised constitutional issues. In particular, the inclusion of noncombat SDF troops in the US-led multinational force in Iraq has deepened public doubts. Many suspect that the government may be trying to boost the national profile in the UN in the name of "international contributions."

The Bush administration has made it clear it would like to see Japan amend its constitution to lift the awkward legal obstacle to joining international coalitions on security missions.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell was quoted as saying recently that if Japan hopes to play a full role on the world stage and become an active participating member of the Security Council, the constitution "would have to be examined in that light."

This would only further erode the constitutional principle of peace and pave the way for a revision of Article 9.

Analysts point out that there is a nagging feeling embedded in Japan's national psyche that for all its money, the country has not gained international respect.

Nevertheless, the Japanese Government should ask itself what Japan, a country which has never squarely faced its war-time history, can and intends to do as a fully-fledged member of the world body.

The question touches the heart of Japan's foreign and security policy.

Koizumi has pursued a policy aimed at what Japanese nationalists call a return to "normal statehood."

With the prime minister and other top Japanese officials repeatedly paying homage to the Yasukuni Shrine, their irresponsible deeds can only alienate their country from its neighbours instead of winning their support for Japan pursuing a bigger role on the international stage.

Source: China Daily

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