Japan looks to reignite debate on U.N. reform
TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - Against a backdrop of expectation within the Japanese government of Security Council reform, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is set to attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
The United Nations will celebrate its 75th anniversary in 2020. Could this present an opportunity for Japan to realize a long-held wish of becoming a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council? Against a backdrop of expectation within the Japanese government of Security Council reform, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is set to attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
The U.N. reforms that Japan is aiming for is sometimes referred to as “a more difficult challenge than constitutional amendment.”
The central concept of the reform is to restructure the Security Council’s permanent membership seats — occupied by the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China, countries that were victorious in World War II — expanding them to include countries such as Japan.
Initiating amendment of the Japanese Constitution first requires the approval of at least two-thirds of both the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors and would be realized if it is supported by a majority of the public in a national referendum.
U.N. reform requires a revision of the U.N. Charter. The amendment must be supported by two-thirds of the member states, and, to have it take effect, it must be ratified by two-thirds of the members, including all the permanent members of the Security Council.
The United Nations marked the 60th anniversary of its founding in 2005. The year is considered to have seen the greatest increase in momentum for reform. Japan formed a group called the G4 together with Germany, India and Brazil, and submitted a resolution to increase the number of permanent members from 5 to 11, and the number of nonpermanent members to 14. However, the vote did not go ahead because it was felt that it would have been difficult to secure a two-thirds majority.
Standing in the way of the G4 proposal was China.
The main field for the battle over the resolution was Africa. Currently, there are 193 U.N. member states. The African Union, which consists of 54 countries, represents a major voting bloc. China, which has an influence over African countries, has engaged in intense lobbying, forcing the G4 proposal to be discarded.
China has maintained its position as Asia’s only permanent member of the Security Council. Reflecting on the failure, Japan has put greater effort into “sowing seeds,” to build friendly relations with Africa. The Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), which Japan co-organizes together with other bodies such as the United Nations, is now held more frequently — every three years instead of every five. TICAD tackles issues related to official development assistance, infrastructure development, and support for health care and sanitation.
However, China boasts an overwhelming degree of financial power and has further been increasing its presence on the African continent.
The value of Japan’s trade with Africa stood at $17 billion (about ¥1.802 trillion) in 2018, while that of China amounted to $116 billion, six times that of Japan. The balance of direct investment as of the end of 2017 stood at $7.8 billion in Japan. In China, it amounted to five times that figure at $43 billion.
This year’s TICAD, held in Yokohama in August, attracted leader-level figures from 42 countries in the AU. While this was a record number, it did not reach the 53 countries that participated in the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), which China held in Beijing last year.
“China put explicit pressure on African countries to not attend TICAD. It appears that delegates from some countries even turned back en route to Japan,” a high-ranking Japanese government official said.
During a meeting in February between Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then Foreign Minister Taro Kono, Lavrov said that Japan should acknowledge because of its defeat in World War II that sovereignty over the northern territories lies with Russia, one of the victors. Lavrov cited clauses regarding former enemy states in the U.N. Charter as the basis for his argument.
The removal of such clauses, which can disadvantage defeated countries such as Japan and Germany, is another reform that Japan is advocating. Abe plans to stress the need for reform in an address at the U.N. General Assembly’s General Debate that will start on Tuesday. A wish to bring an end to the United Nations’ “post war” mood is also included in his address.
At the Millennium Summit, which was held at U.N. headquarters in 2000, most of the participating 149 leaders supported Japan’s U.N. reform plan, leading to increased momentum for change in 2005.
With next year’s 75th anniversary of the United Nations in mind, voices in the Japanese government can be heard talking about the possibility of reigniting the debate for U.N. reform at the upcoming summit.
Lying in the background to calls for reform is the fact that the environment surrounding the United Nations has changed significantly. The number of U.N. member states has increased rapidly to 193 from the 51 that existed at the time it was founded. The rise of emerging countries is also remarkable. It has been pointed out that the Security Council does not reflect the opinions of the diversifying international community.
Five groups, including the G4, have compiled reform proposals. An outline agreement has been reached among the groups seeking the addition of six countries to the list of Security Council permanent members — two from Asia, two from Africa, one from Latin America, and one from Western Europe or other regions. However, there are differences in opinion about the number of nonpermanent members and how to deal with veto rights.
The latest G4 reform plan, which was issued in 2015, proposes 14 or 15 non-permanent member states, with one or two allocated to Africa. Similarly, the AU proposal allocates two seats to Africa. It can be said that the G4 is gearing up for a joint struggle with Africa as their proposals closely align.
Regarding veto rights, the G4 proposal grants rights also to new permanent members, but delays the employment of rights for 15 years. The AU proposal takes the position that “veto rights should be abolished, but if they are to be continued, they should also be granted to new permanent members.” Whether the G4 can make a concession on veto rights is one of the focal points for cooperation with the AU.