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Japan's Campaign for a Permanent Seat on the United Nations Security Council

  • Leta Fincher

Japan's campaign for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council has gained momentum since UN Secretary General Kofi Annan proposed revamping the international body. The United States supports the campaign and Tokyo is one of the biggest donors to the United Nations. But anti-Japan sentiment in China and other Asian countries could prevent Tokyo's long-time dream from being realized. Leta Hong Fincher has more.

Hundreds of Chinese have protested outside Japanese department stores in this southern city, Shenzhen, and another Chinese city in recent weeks.

Chinese activists here were collecting signatures for a petition opposing Japan's bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. Organizers of an Internet petition in China say they have already gathered more than 24 million signatures demanding that Japan be denied a permanent Council seat.

Analysts say these protests suggest official Chinese approval, and that Beijing--which has veto power in the Security Council--could block Japan's decade-long bid to join the international body.

Bill Breer, Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C. says, “China kind of likes being the only permanent [Asian] representative on the Security Council, I think. So it's going to be a tough battle to get China's acquiescence on this issue."

Mr. Breer says China remains angry over what it sees as Japan's failure to apologize for its World War Two atrocities. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's annual visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine--which includes Japanese war criminals among its honored war dead--infuriate Beijing.

The Chinese--along with the South Koreans--are also angered by new Japanese history textbooks. Critics say the books whitewash Japan's militaristic past and 1937 mass murders in the Chinese city, Nanjing--events that became known as the "Rape of Nanking."

"There's a lot of denial in Japan of that, but everybody knows of the so-called Rape of Nanking and the Chinese remember that. They not only remember it but they stimulate memory of that in their education system," says Bill Breer.

Mr. Breer says Japanese leaders, in turn, feel they have already apologized for Japan's wartime aggression. Tokyo is nervous about Beijing's rising military spending, increased threats against Taiwan, and a Chinese submarine incursion into Japanese waters last year.

At the same time, Japan continues to pour investments into China. Every major Japanese electronics and auto firm has manufacturing plants in China. And China has now displaced the United States as Japan's largest trading partner.

Yuki Tatsumi, a Japan scholar at the Henry Stimson Center research group in Washington D.C., describes the dynamic between China and Japan as "cold politics and hot economics."

"It's obviously a very, very complicated relationship. It's a historical relationship and it's also [an] emotional relationship, as much as it's also political and it's diplomatic and it's economic," says Yuki Tatsumi.

Ms. Tatsumi says that for years, Japan downplayed its friction with China. But Japan has slowly begun to build its relationship with the United States into a firm military alliance---in part to counteract China's rise.

Japan has sent hundreds of troops to Iraq, in its first military mission abroad since World War Two.

Tokyo and Washington also signed a joint declaration in February that for the first time listed Taiwan as a mutual security concern.

China has denounced the agreement as a threat to its sovereignty. But Mr. Breer says like it or not, Japan will take on a larger role in regional security matters in the future.

"Japan has very slowly moved to a more supportive role for American peacekeeping and stability-maintaining activities in East Asia---I think that's the most important thing over the years--and slowly is overcoming what for many many years was an abhorrence of things military," says Mr. Breer.

But China has yet to overcome its own abhorrence of a strong Japanese military. And analysts say that if China has its way, it could be years before Japan realizes its goal of a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

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