For children aspiring to become future diplomats, it may be the gateway to success.

Twenty junior high school pupils have passed rigorous tests to enter the Japanese government’s student diplomat corps, an elite group that will be dispatched to the United Nations headquarters in New York for the first time this summer.

According to the Foreign Ministry, the 20 junior high school students were recently selected from 831 applicants from across the country who entered its Japanese-language composition contest. The students had to pick one of two themes: “A future U.N. we want to see” and “What we expect from the U.N.”

The applications were received through the nation’s 47 prefectural governments from April 1 until the end of May. The U.N. Association of Japan, the cosponsor of the contest, is expected to announce the names of the 20 winners in its bulletin as early as this week.

Nagano, Hyogo, Nagasaki and Saga prefectures produced two winners each, with the remainder coming from 12 different prefectures, said officials of the Foreign Ministry’s U.N. policy division.

Of the 20 contest winners, one will be awarded the Foreign Minister Prize and another the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Prize, the Foreign Ministry officials said.

The student diplomat corps will make a weeklong tour of U.N. headquarters starting July 31. In addition to being briefed by U.N. officials on the organization’s work, the students will visit the U.N. representative offices of Japan and some other U.N. member countries.

The officials said the unique U.N. tour program aims to help junior high school students understand the U.N.’s current functions and the role the world body is expected to play in the 21st century.

The ministry hopes more Japanese students will gain a better and deeper understanding of the important role Japan has played — and is expected to play — in the international society through the U.N., the officials said.

Japan, the second-largest contributor to the regular U.N. budget after the United States, is also campaigning for a permanent seat on the powerful U.N. Security Council. The five permanent seats are held by the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France.

The Foreign Ministry earmarked 25 million yen for the student diplomat program in fiscal 2001, which began April 1, and plans to continue the program in fiscal 2002 and beyond.

“We are relieved that many students have applied for the program and that it is likely to get off to a smooth start,” one ministry official said.

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