Japan is planning big cuts in its financial contribution to the United Nations. A decrease in Tokyo's contribution could be a significant blow to the world body's operations.
U.N. officials have learned that Japan is considering a nearly 25 percent reduction in its annual dues payment. That could mean a loss of nearly $70 million a year to the U.N.'s income.
Japan is currently the second largest contributor to the United Nations, after the United States. Its annual assessment is $280 million, nearly 20 percent of the world body's entire budget.
In a telephone interview, Jun Yamazaki of Japan's U.N. mission said the planned cuts are a reflection of Tokyo's fiscal austerity.
"I think the overall financial difficulty of the government has forced it to lower its overseas development assistance amounts, in the past years, so that is, I think that has been a fact, and the Japanese government continues to see a very tight fiscal situation," he explained.
Japanese officials caution that the plan to reduce U.N. funding should not be seen as an attempt to press Tokyo's case for a permanent seat on the Security Council.
But they note Japan's contribution is much larger in proportion to its economy than that of almost any other country. The United States, for example, with a Gross Domestic Product equal to roughly 30 percent of the world economy, pays 22 percent of the U.N. budget. Japan picks up almost 20 percent of the tab, but generates less than 15 percent of the world economy.
Many Japanese favor lowering the U.N. contribution to 15 percent of GDP. They ask why they should pay so much when they are denied a permanent Security Council seat. Tokyo's share, they point out, is significantly larger than permanent council members Russia, China, France and Britain.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric says talk of contribution cutbacks is always worrisome, but is something that inevitably pops up from time to time.
"These things come and go," he said. "We've always been concerned about contributions. The lowering of contributions to overseas development assistance, whether through the U.N. or not, but as I said, the assessments themselves, things are negotiated with great difficulty within member states in the General Assembly."
The U.N. General Assembly assesses contributions every three years, based roughly on each country's economic strength. The next assessment debate is due in 2006, at a time when Japan will have a seat at the Security Council.
While it does not have one of the five permanent council seats, Japan is unopposed for a two-year term in one of the 10 rotating seats beginning next January.