Countries with a seat on the United Nations Security Council belong to an exclusive club. Under the UN charter, the Security Council has the primary responsibility for maintaining peace and security around the world.
Yet there is growing friction between two members of the council, Japan and China. China has a permanent seat on the council -- Japan does not. When Secretary General Kofi Annan proposed sweeping changes to the UN last month, Japan’s campaign for a permanent place at the table seemed to gain momentum.
But as Leta Hong Fincher reports, growing anti-Japanese sentiment in China has put a potential stumbling block in the way.
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."
He 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. New Japanese history textbooks also anger the Chinese, along with the South Koreans.
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." Mr. Breer speaks about this inaccuracy. "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."
Mr. Breer also 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." About the link between the two countries she says, "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."
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 years was an abhorrence of things military."
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.