JAPAN: 'When it comes to combating terrorism, Japan's position is non-wavering'
Karin Palmquist

When the fifty-ninth session of the UN General Assembly opened in New York on September 21, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi proposed in his speech to the world leaders convened that the UN Security Council be reformed to better represent today's world. Koizumi proposed that the number of both permanent and non-permanent members of the Security Council be increased, and that Japan be admitted as a permanent member.

The Security Council has had the same five permanent members with veto power -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- since the United Nations was founded 59 years ago. US Secretary of State Colin Powell voiced support for Japan's bid for a permanent seat, but has not yet commented on similar bids by Germany, Brazil and India. The General Assembly closes on October 1 and a committee evaluating possible reform is due to present its recommendations to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in December.

Limited by its own constitution from taking a more extensive military role in Iraq, Japan nevertheless has been a staunch supporter of the War on Terror. DiplomaticTraffic.com talked to Japan's ambassador to Washington, Ryozo Kato, right before the opening of the UN General Assembly about Japan's commitment to combating terrorism, its reaction to redeployment of US troops in Asia and its bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

DiplomaticTraffic.com: Media reports have it that when the UN General Assembly convenes in New York, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will suggest that the five permanent members of the Security Council be increased , and that Japan be one of the permanent members. How do you assess the prospects for this proposal?

Ambassador Kato: Our main objective is to make the UN more effective in handling international affairs. Security Council reform is one of many reforms needed to create a stronger UN. Today's UN Security Council does not reflect the world's political situation, nor does it represent the world community properly. The UN must enhance its "legitimacy" and "effectiveness." The Security Council needs to be more representative of both developed and developing countries. The United States is supportive of Japan becoming the permanent member. But since the entire picture of UN Security Council reform is not clear to anybody yet, to our understanding, the United States is not in a position to say yes or no to the reform.

In addition to the Security Council reform, several additional reforms are needed to make the UN more relevant and effective. The Security Council, the financial structure and the UN's development programs are also in need of reform. A significant number of countries think these reforms are definitely needed. 

Japan will continue to be cooperative in a financial sense in the UN. However, we do have to take into account that some Japanese people have a mixed feeling about Japan paying so much. Twenty percent of the UN's general budget is provided by Japan, which is second only to the contribution of the United States. Japan contributes more than all the permanent members of the Security Council, the United States excluded, together.  

Japan is not just contributing to the UN. Before the Bush administration announced its AIDS initiative and Millennium Challenge Account , Japan was the largest donor country in the world. Now we're second to the United States in ODA (Official Development Assistance). In order to contribute to the international community in non-militaristic fashion, we give aid in various fields such as environment protection, non-proliferation, science and technology, human security and economic development. We will continue to be helpful to Asian countries, but we also have assistance programs in the Middle East and Africa.

DiplomaticTraffic.com: Japanese citizens have been among the foreigners taken hostage in Iraq over the last months, but you still retain a military presence there. How would you describe Japan's commitment to the War on Terror?

Ambassador Kato: When it comes to combating terrorism, Japan's position is non-wavering. Terrorism is on the rise. In Japan, major cities are situated right by the shore with no shelter from the ocean, making them vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Almost ninety percent of our oil comes from the Middle East. The sea lanes are a lifeline for Japan. Thus we wish for stability in the Middle East and the sea lanes. We are very concerned about terrorism in the Middle East. We also have been the victims of terrorism in the past. Twelve people were killed in the Sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway in 1995 by members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult. In 1997, Marxist Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) guerrillas besieged the Japanese embassy in Lima and held embassy personnel hostage for four months.

DiplomaticTraffic.com: How does the recently-announced plan of President Bush to reposition US forces in Asia affect Japan? 

Ambassador Kato: We need to keep the credibility and effectiveness of U.S. military presence in the area, including Japan. In-depth consultations regarding the redeployment with the United States are necessary. After the Second World War, we were determined to be a non-nuclear weapon state. We have since been protected by US forces. In Europe NATO and the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) provides security. In Europe, nations have been bound by cultural and historical affinity as well as mutual dependence. In Asia, nations have shared increasing mutual dependence but lacked the same level of affinity. Hence the United States has played the key role as the hub of security with spokes going out to all the key nations allied with it, based on bilateral security agreements.  

Commenting on the nuclear threat from North Korea, the ambassador said:

Our stance on North Korea is dialogue and pressure. We believe both are needed. North Korea seems to feel like it is surrounded by the enemy; they feel like they are beleaguered. Therefore they tend to react with surprise moves. They need to be pressured to become more realistic and responsible. Japanese people have a warm spot for the suffering of ordinary people in North Korea. So far, we have provided North Koreans with over one million tons of rice. But the food should reach the people and not end up in the wrong hands. In North Korea there is little transparency.

DiplomaticTraffic.com: Japan signed an FTA with Singapore, and is considering other bilateral or multilateral FTAs. About a third of Japan's trade is with America. Are there plans for a US-Japan FTA?

Ambassador Kato: There have been some discussions and we will continue to see a rise in the arguments. On the other hand, we need to keep in mind that the combined GDP of the United States and Japan is about 45percent of the world's total GDP. In view of this large share of the world economy, the two countries should maintain the momentum for multilateral efforts through WTO. Besides, even without an FTA, we have a high degree of economic integration.

DiplomaticTraffic.com: Japan's trade with China in the first half of 2004 soared 30.2 percent to $78 billion. Trade between the two countries has increased steadily over the last six years. How do you see China's explosive economic growth affecting Japan's traditional economic dominance in Asia?

Ambassador Kato: Chinese leadership gives top priority to economic development. Japan has been providing economic assistance to China. We believe in keeping China engaged in the world economic scene. In the early 90s, due to a downturn in the Japanese economy, some Japanese saw China as an economic threat to Japan. Now that has changed. China is seen as a good place for Japanese exports and investments. Japan and the United States, sharing common values and interests, must have a rational, coherent, objective view of China.

DiplomaticTraffic.com: Japan has always been a specialist in electronics and is on the cutting edge when it comes to wireless technology. Where do you see Japan's high-tech electronics sector heading?

Ambassador Kato: We believe in incessant technology development. It is the best way to expand the world's total economic output, the 'pie'. In this sense, the number and quality of 'pie bakers' (producers) around the world should increase. In today's economy, the United States is the leading 'pie baker,' with Japan right behind. Without the United States and Japan remaining strong producers, the number of 'pie bakers' is rather limited. Their quality and quantity should constantly increase, so that the other 'pie eaters' don't have to play a zero-sum game.

Incidentally, I believe the reason behind Japan's economic success is our craftsmanship.  Japan's economic power is resting on its technology base and the succession of craftsmanship from one generation to the next. Also, the Japanese are slow, but steady implementers. With respect to bank reform, Japan is often criticized for doing too little too slow, but when we do something there is no backpedaling. The total amount of our non-performing loans last year was diminished by 18% compared to the previous year and the process is still going on. 

DiplomaticTraffic.com: After a 6.6 percent growth in the first quarter of 2004, Japan's economy grew by 1.7 percent in the second quarter as consumer spending flagged and companies curtailed investments. What can the Japanese government do to increase consumer spending and encourage investments?

Ambassador Kato: The Japanese economy is bouncing back. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times likened Japan to a sick man who has just gotten out of his hospital bed and is running laps around the hospital. Once oversized public expenditure is down, and household spending is bouncing back. Foreign companies are making inroads into Japanese market. Walmart has made a big investment in Seiyu, Japan's fifth largest supermarket chain. Costco have opened up major stores in Japan and Goldman Sachs is operating nearly 80 golf courses across the country. All in all, the Japanese economy now is in much better shape. It is still about four times bigger than China's economy, and almost half that of the United States.

Ryozo Kato
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to the United States of America

1941  Born in Saitama Prefecture, Japan
1964  Passed Higher Diplomatic Service Examination
1965  Graduated from Tokyo University, Faculty of Law
Entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) of Japan
1981  Director, Security Affairs Division, North American Affairs Bureau, MOFA
1984  Director, Treaties Division, Treaties Bureau, MOFA
1987  Minister, Embassy of Japan in the United States
1990  Director, General Affairs Division, Minister's Secretariat, MOFA
1992  Deputy Director-General, North American Affairs Bureau, MOFA
1994  Consul-General of Japan in San Francisco
1995  Director-General, Asian Affairs Bureau, MOFA
1997  Director-General, Foreign Policy Bureau, MOFA
1999  Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, MOFA 
2001  Ambassador E.& P. to the United States of America
Married to Hanayo and they have three children.