Japan's Bid for an "Honored" Place in the World
John de Boer (Japan Fellow, Stanford University; Research Associate, GLOCOM)
Last week, at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi reiterated his belief that, "the time has come to make a historic decision to reform the United Nations and the Security Council in particular." He insisted that Japan has long been seeking an "honored place" in the international community and is convinced that Japan's contribution to "global peace" merits this position.
News reports indicate that Koizumi is hoping to crown his term in office by securing a permanent seat on the exclusive United Nations Security Council and believes that there is no better time than now to make a strong push. He may be right. With the Bush administration under fire for not being able to build an international coalition that is willing to "share the burden" in Iraq, Japan is one of the few that has pledged billions and made a historic decision to send soldiers to support the US occupation. Japan's relationship with the United States has been characterized by the likes of US ambassador to Japan, Howard Baker, as "better than ever." US officialdom has, thus, publicly endorsed Japan's UNSC bid. Japan's push for UN reform has also been boosted by low morale in the UN. The United Nations continues to suffer from a huge loss in prestige and standing in the world, particularly in the US, after having been ripped apart by the power struggles surrounding the invasion of Iraq and the institution is likely eager to regain whatever legitimacy and functionality it had prior to being overrun. Japan is very conscious of this fact as is indicated in the following comments issued by Japan's foreign minister Yoriko Kawaguchi who said, "in order to retrieve the sense of trust that has been hurt by the response to the Iraq issue, there is a need for the UN to further strengthen its role through reform."
Financially speaking, Japan can make a strong case for membership. It currently provides one-fifth of the entire UN budget, second only to the United States. However, there are many who object to its becoming a permanent member and most of those are its neighbors in Asia. China, a permanent member itself, is likely the fiercest opponent along with South Korea. Also, although Russian opposition seems to have died down over the years, there is still a great amount of uneasiness about Japan's membership. Japan hopes to isolate China on the Security Council when a vote comes up regarding reform by securing every other member's endorsement. The US has already pledged to help out and Japan seems to be working closely with France to garner British and Russian votes. This would leave China alone and hopefully powerless to stop the initiative. So as to embolden Japan's bid, Koizumi has also pledged to stand united with his counterparts in Germany, India and Brazil who all hope to secure a seat in 2005. This cohesive stand places more pressure on China to approve.
China has taken a measured response to Japan's latest bid by issuing statements, which support Japan playing a larger international role. Its leaders acknowledge that as the second largest economy in the world, Japan deserves to have a greater say in international affairs. However, China insists that this does not mean that Japan should take a permanent seat on the Council. PRC officials are adamant in that Japan's failure to face up to its wartime atrocities is indicative of the fact that Japan does not deserve an "honored place" in the international community. In this perspective, China is supported by South Korea, North Korea and many countries in Southeast Asia.
The cautious attitude of East and Southeast Asian countries is also reflective of their concern about a re-militarized Japan. Its deployment of troops to Iraq last year and its increasing military cooperation with the United States is spreading the fear that Japan's UNSC membership will mark its reemergence as a "normal" state that is no longer bound by a no-war and no-force constitution. This combined with the lack of remorse and sense of responsibility the government expresses for the crimes against humanity that were systematically committed by Japanese forces throughout Asia during the Fifteen-year war, are sources of serious concern throughout the region. Japan has yet to recognize that what it calls the Nanjing Incident was in fact a massacre where hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians were murdered and tens of thousands of women were raped. It has yet to apologize for its conducting of biological and chemical weapons testing on Chinese prisoners of war and it has yet to owe up to its forced enslavement of men and women from throughout East Asia prior to and during the Second World War. Considering this record it is difficult to argue that Japan deserves an "honored" place in the world. How can Japan claim to be a country "striving for world peace and prosperity" and command authority in the world if it does not recognize its own crimes?