Opinions Vary as to Role Japan Should Assume on UNSC
John de Boer (Japan Fellow, Stanford University; Research Associate, GLOCOM)
As Japan makes its push to gain a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council, opinions regarding the role that Japan should assume in this exclusive club are surfacing. Some assert that Japan should play the part of a mediator between East and West. Others insist that Japan should represent Asia and Africa in the world body and many are skeptical about Japan's ability to establish an independent position from the United States. At the end of the day, Japan will likely take up all of these functions as it finds itself in an increasingly polarized and complex international environment. Below is a survey of viewpoints surfacing in the international media last week.
Japanese opinion leaders such as Fuji Hiroaki believe that Japan should guide the East to modernization. Writing in the Journal of Japanese Trade and Industry, Fuji asserts that Japan shares fundamental values with Western countries such as democracy and human rights. Simultaneously he notes that Japan has managed to preserve many of the traditions and customs that it shares with many nations in Asia. His views are typical of the mainstream intelligentsia in Japan who have long positioned Japan as a model for modernization in Asia. Fuji asserts that Japan has been able to "maintain its old culture and traditions even at the forefront of technological and economic development." In essence, Japan has shown the way to modernization without Westernization. In recognition of the dramatic steps that many Asian states have made toward development, Fuji also sees Japan as playing a key role in promoting what he refers to as a "movement" to establish an East Asian Community based on equality for the first time.
In an article written on April 8, the Jakarta Post suggests that Japan could act as a "bridge between Asia and Africa." This Indonesian daily envisions Japan promoting Asia's developmental experience in Africa by facilitating the transfer of know-how and expertise. This perspective believes that Japan is well positioned to present a renewed and more assertive commitment to development cooperation between Asia and Africa and regards the 50th Anniversary celebrations of the Asia-Africa Conference to be held in Bandung this year as an excellent opportunity to do so.
Media sources in China, such as the China Daily, are skeptical about Japan's ascension to the Security Council. The Koizumi administration's suggestion on November 26th that it will suspend Official Development Assistance to China in the near future has increased the suspicion that Japan is ready to take a more assertive stance against China on the global stage. Japan's increased flexibility in regard to the overseas deployment of the Self Defense Forces and continued disregard for sensitivities toward war crimes perpetrated by Japanese forces prior to and during World War II have irked many. Furthermore, Japan's increasingly open posture toward China regarding the Taiwan issue has many in China convinced that Japan represents another obstacle for China's ambitions in Taiwan at the UN.
Considering the wide variety of expectations held by UN members toward Japan, it is likely that Japanese will be under more pressure than ever before to respond to international demands and criticism. Although Japan's government argues that it is prepared to assume a greater role on the international stage, only time will tell whether its citizens and its representatives are up to the task.