History, Rivalry Cloud Japan's Hopes for UN Security Council Seat
July 7, 2008 - 8:16 PM
Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - Japan's U.S.-backed bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council faces growing opposition in East Asia because of lingering anger over Japan's wartime aggression as well as more recent disputes.
In China, millions of Internet users have signed online petitions against a Security Council seat for Japan. The campaigns have not been directly endorsed by Beijing, but the government appears to tacitly support the calls for Japan's rejection.
South Korea's ambassador to the U.N., Kim Sam-hoon, said last week Seoul would lobby to block Japan's bid for a seat.
As the second-largest donor to U.N. coffers, and a much bigger contributor than permanent members China and Russia, Japan has argued for years that it should have a seat.
A package of reform proposals put forward by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan earlier this year provides the opportunity for Japan and other contenders to achieve membership: One of two alternative proposals for Security Council reform provides for the addition of six permanent members - two each from Asia and Africa, and one each from the Americas and Europe.
Japan's bid has the support of the U.S. and of three other countries vying for a permanent seat, India, Brazil and Germany.
Annan wants the U.N. to approve the reform package by the time world leaders gather for a General Assembly meeting in New York in September. Changes would require a two-thirds majority vote, but could be stymied should one of the five current permanent members use its veto power.
China's opposition to Japan is significant both because of the influence it wields in the General Assembly - where it is not averse to using it diplomatic and economic clout to garner support, as in the case of Taiwan - and because it wields a veto in the council.
China and Korea were the primary victims of Imperial Japan's expansionism in the first half of half century, and many Chinese and Koreans accuse Japan of not sufficiently making amends for its past.
The resentment flares periodically, when Japanese school textbooks are seen as downplaying the history of aggression, or whenever Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visits a shrine to Japan's war dead, where war criminals are also interred.
But more recent issues have also fueled the ill-will. Both China and South Korea have territorial disputes with Japan.
In South Korea's case, a row over a string of islets controlled by Seoul but claimed by Tokyo has deepened in recent weeks, with angry flag-burning protests and bodily mutilations by Koreans outside the Japanese Embassy.
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun warned the dispute could lead to a "diplomatic war" and his government is pointedly planning military drills there soon.
China and Japan are embroiled in several disputes over islands where gas drilling prospects and fishing resources are of immediate importance, but whose strategic location could also have implications in the event of future military conflicts. The incursion of a Chinese submarine into disputed waters last November drew a strong response from Japan.
Beijing has also become increasingly uncomfortable with Japan's move towards a more assertive military role in the region and beyond, a development encouraged by the U.S.
By reworking its military doctrine, sending troops to Iraq, participating in a U.S.-led non-proliferation drive, signing up to American ballistic missile defense programs, and indirectly pledging to aid the U.S. in defending Taiwan, Japan has been edging away from its pacifist constitution drafted by the U.S. after World War II.
Koizumi's ruling Liberal Democratic Party this week unveiled proposed amendments to the constitution, aimed at making clear that Japan can maintain armed forces for defense and international peacekeeping purposes.
Analysts say China is hostile to Japan's military modernization because it regards the U.S. ally as a threat to its own regional ascendance.
The rivalry looks set to be played out in the context of Japan's campaign for a seat on the Security Council.
Beijing has not formally announced its opposition, but state-controlled newspapers have carried editorials accusing Japan of trying to "buy" a seat on the council.
Official media have also given generous coverage to a petition drive whose organizers claim to have gathered 22 million signatures.
And in a country where demonstrations are tightly managed, anti-Japanese protests took place in southern and western China at the weekend, with windows of a Japanese department store smashed in one incident before police moved in.
The protests prompted Japan's vice foreign minister to urge the Chinese ambassador to ensure the safety of Japanese nationals in China and ensure businesses could operate normally.
Some stores in China have removed Japanese produce from their shelves amid boycott calls, according to Japanese media reports.
Asked about China's attitude towards Tokyo's bid, Japanese foreign ministry spokesman Hatsuhisa Takashima told a press conference Beijing's official position was "not known yet."
He voiced the hope that "we will be able to obtain the understanding of the Chinese government on the reason why we are seeking a permanent seat on the Security Council."
Takashima also noted that it would be the Chinese government that decided on the issue, implying that a private petition drive would not hold weight.
"We are aware that there is a certain movement going on in the country," he said. "At the same time, there are many conflicting reports about the nature and actual content of this online petition so we will just keep an eye on this development."
Beijing's Ambassador to the U.N., Wang Guangya, said in New York that China had yet to take any decision to support or oppose any other particular country's candidacy.
Wang also suggested that Annan's September deadline be put back to enable member states to reach consensus on the reform package.
In his March 20 report proposing U.N. reforms, Annan urged members to finish negotiations by September and said that while consensus was preferable, failure to reach unanimous support for the recommendations "must not become an excuse for postponing action."
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