Japanese urged to expand UN role

BOUTROS Boutros-Ghali, the United Nations Secretary-General, yesterday issued a forthright appeal to Japan to play a larger role in the UN, and suggested the country might start by sending a 'symbolic' contingent to help UN peace-keepers in Mozambique.

Mr Boutros-Ghali is on a five-day visit to Japan, and has repeatedly pushed home his message that Japan must do more than offer money to solve the world's problems. 'If you are an important country youhave important responsibilities. My message to the Japanese Prime Minister (Kiichi Miyazawa) was: we need more participation from Japan, which is an important country.'

Japan is currently agonising over its role in the UN. Tokyo covets a permanent seat on the Security Council, but is sensitive to criticism that it lacks the necessary international experience.

Mr Boutros-Ghali, speaking at a press conference, carefully kept his comments within the bounds of diplomatic politeness. But his underlying message was clear: a stark challenge to Japan to face up to the new demands of 'peace enforcement' being placed on UN members, to boost its participation in the UN's work in New York, and to widen its focus from neighbouring Asia to encompass the whole world.

At the moment, Japan's only commitment of personnel to UN peace-keeping operations is in Cambodia, where 600 troops are engaged in repairing roads. Because of Japan's constitutional restraint on using force to settle international disputes, these soldiers are legally obliged to withdraw the moment any fighting breaks out.

Mr Boutros-Ghali suggested last week in New York that Japan should change its constitution to enable it to participate more fully in the new style of peace-enforcement missions that are becoming part of the UN's work in the wake of the Cold War. This caused a strong reaction in Japan, where the issue of the constitution is highly sensitive.

Yesterday Mr Boutros-Ghali did not specifically mention constitutional reform in Japan. But referring to recent UN activities in Somalia and El Salvador, he said the organisation was now being asked to move beyond 'simple peace-keeping' to greater levels of engagement. Japan should not be shy to take part, he implied.

Another problem for the UN is the small number of Japanese working in the institution. Japan has a few highly publicised agency leaders - like the controversial Hiroshi Nakajima, who was recently re-elected as head of the World Health Organisation with heavy lobbying by the Japanese government.

But apart from the prestige jobs, Japanese representation in the UN staff is about 50 per cent of what the country is allotted by virtue of its financial contribution. Lack of language skills is one of the problems. This has tended to put Japan on a low footing within the UN.

Yesterday Mr Boutros-Ghali said he was 'shocked' when he learnt that the last time a United Nations secretary-general visited Tokyo was in 1982. 'The UN shares some responsibility. It is important to have more communication,' he said.

He also showed that he expected Japan to extend itself beyond Asia. 'I know your Prime Minister talked in Bangkok of Japan's presence in Asia. But for the UN I am interested in a Japanese presence in Africa and Latin America.'

If Japan were to participate in Mozambique, for example, it would have a symbolic value, and would 'show that Japan has a global approach'. He said it was also important that UN forces should be representative of as many countries as possible.

Mr Boutros-Ghali was neutral on the issue of Japan's desire to become a permanent member of the Security Council. 'It is a possibility, yes, but the decision must be taken by the members of the UN,' he said.