NEW YORK – Japan was elected to one of the five nonpermanent seats on the U.N. Security Council on Thursday, returning to the body for the first time in five years.
It is the 11th time Japan has sat on the Security Council, more than any other nonpermanent member. Its election comes amid heavy lobbying by Tokyo for a thorough revamp of the 70-year-old organization — and possibly a permanent seat at the top table.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida welcomed the move, saying in a statement on Friday that Japan will “actively contribute” to a broad range of global challenges.
Kishida cited U.N. peacekeeping and “efforts for peace-building in the Middle East and Africa which contribute to the peace and safety of these regions as potential areas for engagement. He also mentioned the situation involving North Korea.
All five new members were elected unopposed to two-year terms starting in January, with Japan taking the seat allocated to the Asia-Pacific region. It received the endorsements of 184 countries.
Egypt and Senegal will represent Africa, Uruguay will be Latin America’s representative and Ukraine will take the seat allocated to Eastern Europe. Kiev’s membership will put it side by side on the council with adversary Moscow, which holds a permanent seat.
Each of the five new candidates must be approved by a minimum two-thirds of the votes at the 193-member General Assembly to join the council, which comprises 10 nonpermanent and five veto-wielding permanent members.
Meanwhile, Japan, along with Germany, Brazil and India, are pushing for a revamp of the Security Council. They each aspire to permanent membership.
It is an “urgent” task, Kishida said, to expand the Security Council. “By stepping up collaboration with reform-minded nations, we will move forward toward realizing a reform.”
Diplomats told Kyodo News that Tokyo’s frequent presence on the council has helped and will continue to push its visibility in the global arena.
Joining the Security Council will enable Japan to gain access to and participate in closed-door consultations and to vote on resolutions at what is effectively the world’s most powerful body.
But it remains to be seen whether Japan will be able to push the issue of human rights in North Korea as it seeks to resolve the problem of Japanese nationals abducted and taken there decades ago. Although the Security Council decided to place North Korean human rights on its agenda in December, it has not been a topic frequently discussed.
“We hope that the council will be seized on this issue and taking up in an appropriate moment how to deal with the betterment of the human rights situation in DPRK,” Motohide Yoshikawa, Japan’s envoy to the United Nations, told reporters. He was referring to North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Japan will also be involved in selecting the successor to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, whose term expires at the end of 2016. The Security Council has the final say on who his replacement will be.
Japan’s return to the council will see it break its tie with Brazil for the highest number of terms on the council. Brazil has been a nonpermanent member 10 times. Tokyo was last on the council in 2009-2010.
Referring to Japan’s frequent membership, Yoshikawa said: “We would like to devote ourselves to demonstrating that Japan has rich experiences and is committed more than anyone else in tackling international issues.”
On the deepening Syrian civil war, the ambassador noted that Syrians have positive sentiment toward Japan because of Tokyo’s humanitarian assistance.
“We would like to consider what we can do for resolving (the conflict) based in part on the relationship between Japan and Syria,” he said.
Japan replaces Jordan as the member for the Asia-Pacific. Bangladesh was interested in the seat but withdrew its candidacy in September last year. Dhaka then threw its weight behind Tokyo, paving the way for Japan to enter the contest unopposed.
Japan is the second-largest contributor to the U.N. budget, second only to the United States and accounting for 10.83 percent of 2013-2015 outlays.
British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told reporters he welcomed having Japan on the council as it is a “major and important contributor” to the international body. He said he looks forward to working with Yoshikawa.
“We look forward to Japan taking an increasingly active part in peacekeeping operations and supporting international efforts to secure peace and prosperity,” he added.
Ban’s deputy spokesman also mentioned Japan’s frequent election.
“Certainly our hope for Japan is that it continues to contribute in the ways that it has,” said Farhan Haq. “It is a very valued member of the United Nations and I think that is attested to by the sheer number of times … that its fellow member states have voted overwhelmingly for it to be on the Security Council.”
Besides Russia and the United States, the Security Council has three other permanent members — Britain, China and France, as well as five other nonpermanent members that remain through next year — Angola, New Zealand, Spain, Malaysia and Venezuela.
Japan’s election came just days after the government threatened to halt its funding of UNESCO, the U.N.’s science and culture agency, for adding Chinese materials it disputes to an archive of historical documents.
UNESCO last week added “Nanking Massacre” files, detailing the mass murder and brutalization of the city by Imperial Japanese troops, to its “Memory of the World” program. Japan objected to the nomination of the documents.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said earlier this week that Tokyo will consider halting or cutting funding for UNESCO and demand reform of the screening system that Japan said lacks “fairness and transparency.”