U.N. secretary general to visit Tokyo, Beijing on Asia trip

Kofi Annan, the new secretary general of the United Nations, may visit Tokyo and Beijing in May, his first trip to the two capitals since taking office Jan. 1, Japanese diplomatic sources said Mar. 13.

The U.N. secretariat is now making scheduling adjustments with Japan and China to make the May trip by Annan, a career U.N. diplomat from Ghana who succeeded Egypt’s Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the sources said. “Annan wants to visit both Tokyo and Beijing on his first Asian tour,” one of the sources said. “It is still possible that Annan’s trip to Japan and China will be delayed to a later date if the U.N., Japan and China fail to find dates in May for the trip that will be convenient for all three sides.”

Annan visited Tokyo last fall to attend an international seminar on ways to prevent regional conflicts in Africa. He was then a U.N. undersecretary general for peacekeeping operations.

If Annan visits Tokyo in May, he will meet with Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and other Japanese leaders to discuss reforms of the U.N., including a possible expansion of the membership of the U.N. Security Council, and Japan’s role in a wide range of U.N. activities, the sources said. “I think Japan is an important country and has a role to play in this organization,” Annan said in an interview with Japanese news media shortly after his inauguration as U.N. chief.

He expressed strong hope that Japan continues its participation in U.N. peacekeeping operations and play a greater role in activities aimed at preventing regional conflicts as well as in the social and economic development of developing countries. As to the prospect of Japan’s gaining a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, Annan said, “I personally support the idea of (the council’s) expansion.” But he did not elaborate further, saying it is a matter for U.N. member nations, not the U.N. secretariat, to decide.

Annan became the seventh secretary general in U.N. history and the first from sub-Saharan Africa. He came in after the U.S. vetoed a second five-year term for Boutros-Ghali, accusing him of lacking enthusiasm for carrying out administrative and fiscal reform of what the U.S. harshly criticizes as a bloated and wasteful body.