Ban Ki-moon, the new UN Secretary-General met President Bush for the first time yesterday (Jan. 16) and the main dailies are reporting it on their websites (details to follow in the evening edition?) The Asahi, however, is the only newspaper to tie the event to Japan. Of sorts. You see, the Asahi followed Mr. Ban to the CSIS, where he, according to the news report, showed a cautious attitude towards the bid on the part of Japan and other states to become permanent members of the UN Security Council, saying: "I understand their desires quite well, but other nations hope to make the UNSC more representative and democratic, rather than to give permanent seats to a small number of states". (My translation. You can see/hear the event on the CSIS portal, and transcripts should be soon available.)
I expect the Japanese right-wing media to weigh in on this. I won't mention names, but I suspect the story will be that we should have opposed the guy when we could, and that they told you so. I say, forget about it. Once the UNSC permanent members decided he would be okay, given the circumstances, there would have been no way to stop him. Taro Aso could be UNSG, and he would not be able to anything that the US didn't want to happen, and the US would not be able to do anything that China and Russia would not let happen. There may be occasions on which Mr. Ban may be able to exercise his charm and powers of moral suasion to alter the course of events, but at the end of the day, he is just another bureaucrat, albeit an extremely high profile one. Rather, satisfy yourself with this thought: the UNSG has always come, always will, from states of inconsequence. Canada has a reputation for the caliber of its international civil servants (in fact, I could tell you a story… but I digress), but it dares not risk its seat at the table with the G-7, G-8, in order to make a bid for the big prize. No, South Korea's success, and the joy that broke out there at Mr. Ban's selection, is an admission that this is as good as it is going to get for them. Let them have their day in the sun. Be satisfied with fact that South Korea has admitted that they are not in the same league with us. (Now unification under a single, democratic regime would change the equation, but that remains hidden in the shrouds of future history.)
Why Asahi chose to carry the UNSC-related comment I do not know. But I would not be surprised to see an editorial, or op-ed of sorts, there; stating that Japanese insensitivity towards the Koreas is the reason for Mr. Ban coming out against Japan. Hello (actually, I'm being forced to say this to my thumb, since the people at Asahi, to the best of my knowledge, do not read my blog), South Korea is one of the "other nations". Italy opposes Germany, Pakistan opposes India, Argentina and Mexico oppose Brazil, and a big reason why our bid failed was because the Africans (Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa…?) could not get their act together. Think, derby match. And no amount of sucking up to the UNSG would change that, even if he/she happened to hail from the Newly Independent State of Shimane.
Having said this, a word of caution: This is not the first time he has staked out a position at odds with Kofi Anan, or at least where his predecessor remained uncommitted. He has shown understanding for the death penalty (South Korea, like Japan, has the death penalty), stated that we would like to visit North Korea as the Secretary-General (I'm sure the Bush adminstration disabused him of that thought, so he's probably waiting for a Bill Richardson to be in the White House or its environs in 2009 and beyond), and now he's come out against permanent membership for Japan (a no-no for South Korea). These are all bits and peices of the South Korean agenda.
I believe that this is something to keep an eye on. After all, he is human; and he has friends and family in South Korea, and, unlike Mr. Anan, will surely settle in his home country when he retires. I trust the Japanese government will keep track, and interject when it sees the UNSG going in a direction against Japanese interests, as the authorities (not necessarily I) perceive them to be. But that would be expected of our government vis-à-vis any Secretary-General.
(Sidebar: I have problems with words like "representative" and "democratic" being indiscriminately and unqualifiedly used in justifying this or that position concerning the management of relations between sovereign states. I am tempted to say that such usage is less than useless; if it were only limited to these two words. For, to be consistent, I would have to call for the rewriting of a very significant portion, perhaps even the majority, of what passes for public discourse today, including my own, I fear. But I digress.)