Japan Appeals for Permanent Security Council Seat; China Opposed

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has made his pitch for Japan to become a permanent member of the Security Council, teaming up with other aspirants Germany, India and Brazil to press for an expansion of the U.N.'s top body.

"We believe that the role that Japan has played provides a solid basis for its assumption of permanent membership on the Security Council," Koizumi said in an address to the annual General Assembly session in New York City Tuesday.

Japan has been pressing for a permanent seat since 1993, but Koizumi has made it a key policy goal. Next year marks the U.N.'s 60th anniversary, and officials in Tokyo are hoping the momentum for reform may benefit Japan's bid for membership.

Second only to the U.S., Japan provides 19.5 percent of the U.N.'s budget, contributing almost 20 times more than permanent members China and Russia.

It also argues that as the only country to have sustained a nuclear attack, it would bring a unique perspective to a body all of whose current permanent members are nuclear powers.

Of those permanent members, the U.S., Britain and France reportedly have voiced support for Japan's bid, while China opposes it. Russia's stance remains unclear.

Apart from the permanent Big Five, the Council also comprises 10 non-permanent seats, allotted regionally for two year terms, and without veto power.

U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan has set up a high-level panel to investigate U.N. reform and put forward concrete proposals in December.

Among the various proposals for Security Council reform, experts on the panel have suggested the establishment of a new type of "semi-permanent" member, serving renewable five-year terms, but with no veto. Japan, India, Brazil and Germany are reported to be opposed to the idea, however.

The four countries, and any others wanting to join the Security Council as permanent members, face an uphill battle.

Any change to the composition of the Security Council would require revision of the U.N. charter, a move that needs the approval of the existing five veto-wielding permanent members as well as the support of two-thirds of the General Assembly's 191 members.

Aspiring new members also will have to deal with regional rivals.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Kong Quan told a press conference Tuesday that Japan's financial contributions to the U.N. should not in itself buy it a seat.

"The United Nations is not a board of directors," he said. "Its composition cannot be decided according to the financial contributions of its members."

Kong said the priority when it comes to Security Council reform should be representation of developing countries.

U.N. members' contributions are in line with assessments based on their relative "capacity to pay" the world body's operating costs, with a ceiling set at 22 percent - the rate at which the U.S. is assessed. Next come Japan (19.5), Germany (9.8) and France (6.5). Russia is assessed at 1.1 percent, and China at one percent.

Other aspirants also are likely to run into regional difficulties. Italy objects to Germany's promotion to the Security Council; Pakistan is opposed to its neighbor and nuclear rival, India, getting a permanent seat; and large Latin American countries such as Argentina are expected to question Brazil's qualifications for representing the region on the Council.

WW2 legacy

Japan's greatest difficulty may not be the opposition of China and its developing nation allies, but the fact it still operates under the war-renouncing constitution drafted by the U.S. after the defeat of Imperial Japan in 1945.

Koizumi has been edging away from a strictly pacifist interpretation of the constitution, and Japan sent forces to Iraq last December to help the reconstruction efforts - albeit restricted to using force only for self-defense. He also joined the Proliferation Security Initiative, a U.S.-led plan to interdict ships suspected to be carrying weapons of mass destruction

But the constitution still bans the use of force in settling disputes, and U.S. deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage was quoted several months ago as raising this issue with Japanese lawmakers as a possible obstacle to Tokyo joining the Security Council.

Nonetheless, President Bush has on several occasions - including during a working lunch at Sea Island, Georgia, last June - assured Koizumi of his support for Japan's bid for a permanent seat on the Council.

Earlier this week, Koizumi said in New York that Japan could play a role as a permanent member without amending its constitution.

"Japan has supported the international community through U.N. peacekeeping operations and activities in Iraq," he said. "We'll be able to play a significant role without using force."

Aside from Koizumi's speech to the General Assembly Tuesday, he also released a joint statement with Germany, India and Brazil, in which the four called for permanent seats for themselves, and supported each other's bids.

Their joint statement also proposed a permanent seat for an African nation.

Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa have been suggested in the past as possible candidates for an African seat.

'Japan supports US policies'

Any expansion of the permanent membership is likely to alter the balance of the Council, which on occasion has been deeply split over questions such as the war against Iraq - the U.S. and Britain versus the rest - and the 1999 military campaign in Kosovo, when Russia and China opposed the NATO trio.

Chinese academic Prof. Zhou Yongsheng of the China Foreign Affairs College argues that one of the reasons Japan's bid is "almost hopeless" in the short term is the fact it has been supportive of Washington's foreign policy.

"It cannot win the trust of most countries if it does not change such a policy," he said in an article published in a state-run Chinese daily.

Zhou also accused Japan of failing to understand the feelings of countries in the region relating to its history, pointing to visits by top government officials to a controversial Tokyo shrine honoring Japan's war dead, including convicted war criminals.

Such visits "hurt the feelings of its neighbor countries," said Zhou. "Imagine how hard it would be for Japan, who can hardly convince its neighbors, to own a ... permanent member seat."

Ill-feeling between China and Japan, linked to Japanese aggression in the first half of last century, occasionally rears its head - most recently during last month's Asian Cup soccer tournament game between the two countries. Chinese fans displayed anti-Japanese signs and attacked the visiting team's bus.

Last weekend, the Chinese government permitted a small protest outside the Japanese Embassy in Beijing to mark the anniversary of Japan's 1931 invasion. Demonstrators waved banners bearing slogans opposing a permanent Security Council seat for Japan.

Hundreds of Chinese civilians were slaughtered during the Japanese invasion. Japan also annexed and occupied Korea from 1910 until the end of the war in 1945.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow