“I don’t care to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.” — Groucho Marx

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s decision to not visit Yasukuni Shrine on Aug. 15, the 60th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War, was seen as an act of common sense.

With a general election scheduled for Sept. 11 and public opinion moving against such a visit, Koizumi would prefer the election be about postal privatization rather than his dismal diplomatic record. Relations between Japan and its closest neighbors are at a postwar low, and the Japanese people are alarmed, even if they don’t fully understand China’s and South Korea’s bitterness.

This is the fault of the Japanese media, which either oversimplifies or distorts Japan’s position vis-a-vis other countries. The grassroots Chinese movement that exploded last spring into violent protests against Japan was mainly a campaign against Japan’s bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council as part of the so-called Group of 4 (Japan, Germany, Brazil, India). However, the media explained that this anger was the fruit of “patriotic education” and other anti-Japanese propaganda carried out by the Chinese government. Even the Mainichi Shimbun, one of Japan’s more liberal vernacular dailies, took the reactionary road and accused Chinese protesters of exploiting Japan’s lack of acknowledgment for past sins in order to derail needed U.N. reform.

But the Chinese had a point. Should Japan be given a permanent seat on the Security Council? According to Ichiro Kawabe, an instructor at Aichi University writing in the newsletter Femin, Japan has for more than a decade supported military solutions rather than diplomatic ones when it comes to conflicts. In 1992 and ’93, Japan was one of the nonpermanent members of the Security Council who approved all U.N. resolutions regarding the militarization of peacekeeping operations (PKO). Though it claims to support the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Japan has never been aggressive about preventing the spread of nuclear arms and has not ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. In 1998, Japan was the only nonpermanent Security Council member to back the U.S. and Great Britain when they bombed Iraq. It has not yet signed the convention for the International Criminal Court, which tries war criminals. And of all the G4 countries, only Japan supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

In short, Japan defies the spirit if not the letter of the U.N. Charter at every turn, mainly because it is an unquestioning ally of the United States, which is notorious for flouting U.N. resolutions.

On its Web site, the Foreign Ministry explains that Japan wants to gain a permanent SC seat because it wishes to “possess a voice [in the U.N.] commensurate with its contribution,” which refers to the fact that Japan provides the United Nations with 20 percent of its budget. Otherwise, Japan wants to help bring about “peace and security in the world so that Japan’s national interests can be achieved.”

The impression one gets is that Japan wants a permanent seat simply because it believes it deserves one. But other than providing money, what has Japan done to deserve a seat? The Web site says that Japan supports the U.N.’s human rights efforts, when in fact it has come under fire from the U.N. for its domestic human rights record, especially with regard to refugees in Japan.

A number of influential Americans, including newly installed U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, have said that any country which belongs to the Security Council must have a powerful military, but the Foreign Ministry has denied that moves to revise the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9 have anything to do with Japan’s Security Council bid. In any case, the U.S. is dead set against SC reform, including adding new permanent members, since such a change might weaken America’s position in the U.N. However, the U.S. would certainly benefit from Japan’s participation. If allowed in, the G4 would not be granted the veto power that the current SC members enjoy, but an article in the Shukan Kinyobi said if the veto power had been granted to new members other countries believe Japan’s inclusion would automatically give the U.S. “two vetoes.”

If the Security Council is a rich man’s club then maybe Japan should be accepted as a permanent member, but as Paul McCartney once said, money can’t buy you love. In a recent Asahi Shimbun article, Jinichi Matsumoto explained how Japan spent more than 12 billion dollars in aid to Africa for the purpose of “incentive” to gain international political support. Much of this money went to pointless public works projects that aided Japanese companies more than they did African people. As it stands, the African Union has decided not to support the G4 at the upcoming U.N. summit in September. It isn’t the first time Japan has been rebuffed by the African Union. When the U.S. invaded Iraq, Japan pressured African countries to support the invasion and they didn’t.

So maybe the Chinese know something the Japanese people, not to mention the Japanese media, don’t; that Japan has no reason to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council except that it wants to play with the big boys. And how would they play? Well, consider the club: the five permanent members, including China, are the five main nuclear powers, as well as being five of the six biggest weapons exporters in the world. Last week, it was reported that more than 50 percent of Chinese people surveyed by a Chinese magazine said they believe their country and Japan will someday fight a war over oil. To anyone living in Japan right now it sounds impossible, but it’s happened before. That’s what Aug. 15 was all about.