Personal Pasts Preventing A Bigger Asia in the United Nations

Jeffrey Mok

Just as India is vying for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, Japan equally hopes for a larger role in the future of world affairs. Since Kofi Annan’s announcement in September 2004 of the possibility of increasing the permanent membership seats to nine from five, India and Japan, two of Asia’s powerhouses pressed for their recognition. Indeed, one is the second most populous nation and the other holds the second largest economy, it seems fitting for them to have a say in future world affairs. This will definitely increase Asia’s involvement in world affairs but their bids are being jeopardized by regional countries’ personal past and contentious territorial disputes. As each of the permanent members has veto wielding power, all five must support both candidacies.

While India has to deal with its history and territorial disputes with Pakistan, Japan faces China’s past grievances squarely in the eye. What is arguably standing in India’s way is Washington’s view of India’s handling of Indo-Pakistan issues, especially as Pakistan is an important ally of US. The strongest objection coming from Pakistan was India’s past wars and the unresolved issue with Kashmir. From Pakistan’s view, a more confident India in the UN may imbalance any future bilateral negotiation. What is hopeful though is the historic bus ride from Muzaffarabad to Srinagar on April 7, may help both governments see the benefits of peaceful settlement of the Kashmir issue and begin a bilateral support comparable to the scenes of tearful hugs of comradeship between long lost brothers.

China’s opposition to Japan boils down to the failure of substantiating her apology with compensation for the World War II atrocities and the continual visits to the Yasukuni Shrine. The much publicized Nanjing Massacre of a debatable figure of over 300,000 and the military’s debauchery of Chinese women as `comfort women’ are often cited grievances that Japan has yet to make a reparation. The Yasukuni Shrine is symbolic of Japan’s ultra-nationalism and militarism and the visits are constant signals that the leaders honour their imperial past. Equally damaging is the continual refusal to recognize the wartime aggression in Japan’s history textbooks. The recent revision of the Japanese high school textbook on April 5 was accused of ignoring the facts of belligerence towards Asian countries which triggered three consecutive weekends of mass anti-Japanese protests in China. Some turned ugly with windows ofJapanese embassies, banks and restaurants smashed. The textbook also included the controversial territory of Diaoyutai or Senkaku, a group of small islands, currently contested by China, Taiwan and Japan. The textbook has also angered South Korea, who accused Japan of claiming another disputed islets (Tokto) as their own. South Korea has since openly opposed Japan’s bid.

In contrast, China, in a landmark visit to India to agree on strategic and cooperative partnership on April 11, voiced support for India’s bid in spite of their brief war in 1962. China’s support is seen due to largely a change in the Chinese leadership to Hu Jin Tao, a technocrat with stronger understanding of international relations. Coupled with a whopping $5 billion annual trade between the two countries, China feels the support will bring future dividends. The other three permanent members, France, Russia and Britain have already supported India’s bid whilst Japan has only two confirmed with Russia is holding out for Japan due to the outstanding dispute over the northern islands off Hokkaido.

The case for Japan is strong. Japan has contributed significantly to the UN, being the second largest donor after the United States. The deployment of Self Defense Forces in UN operations in Iraq and UN aid efforts in the recent Tsunami tragedy are signs of Japan’s increasing role. India’s case is one for a representation for South Asia. Being the world’s largest democracy, standing at 1.2 billion people, India argues for a balanced representation. Indeed, India’s burgeoning exportation of IT expertise and mushrooming economy are arguing for a Security Council to represent the modern century rather than that of the1950s.

The restructuring of UN Security Council is long overdue. The current shape resembles the powerhouses of the time after World War II. Time has changed and with dramatic economic development and global involvement by bidding countries, it is timely for a new structure to better reflect the current times. Logically and politically, both India and Japan should be part of the Security Council. It will not only boost Asia’s presence in the UN, but it will also serve to unite Asia’s often fragmented and multilaterally inefficacious policies. It will benefit all in Asia rather than encouraging imbalanced of power play regionally. As it is timely for the UN to reflect the modern times, it is also timely for all to forgive and look to Asia’s future rather than dwelling on Asia’s past.

Author Note
Jeffrey Mok is a Fellow at Miyazaki International College, Japan