Government officials are expressing a sense of crisis over Japan's reduced presence at international organizations in light of the decline in Japanese holding senior positions at such bodies.
In a mid- to long-term effort, the government will strategically develop human resources who can be active internationally, at the initiative of an economic security team established under the National Security Secretariat in April, informed sources said.
Japanese officials who headed international organizations include Koichiro Matsuura, who was director-general of UNESCO from 1999 to 2009, Yukiya Amano, who was director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2009 and died last year while in office, and Koji Sekimizu, who was secretary-general at the International Maritime Organization from 2012 to 2016.
Furthermore, the late Sadako Ogata, former U.N. high commissioner for refugees, and Yasushi Akashi, who contributed to building peace in Cambodia as a special representative of the U.N. secretary-general, played prominent roles on the international stage.
However, none of the 15 U.N.-affiliated special organizations is currently headed by a Japanese national.
According to the Foreign Ministry, Izumi Nakamitsu, U.N. undersecretary-general and high representative for disarmament affairs, is the highest-ranking Japanese official at a U.N. organization. She is followed by Naoko Yamamoto, the World Health Organization's assistant director-general for universal health coverage and health systems.
By contrast, officials from China, which has overtaken Japan as the world's second-largest economy, hold the leadership posts in four U.N. bodies, including the Food and Agriculture Organization.
China's increased representation at U.N. organizations apparently reflects its active aid diplomacy, backed by its enormous wealth, toward developing nations mainly in Africa, which helped it win many votes in elections.
In addition, South Korea has fielded a candidate in an election to pick the replacement of World Trade Organization Director-General Roberto Azevedo, who will step down in late August.
Competition for major positions at international organizations is expected to intensify further.
Explaining the absence of Japanese in top international posts, a Foreign Ministry official pointed to the varying backgrounds of the candidates.
Many recent leaders of international organizations are people who were formerly Cabinet ministers in their countries, the official said. As many Japanese candidates are career diplomats, they pale in comparison with rivals from other nations.
The government plans to make steady efforts to develop human resources in order to secure top positions at international organizations and increase the number of personnel working at such organizations, in the hope of broadening Japan's perspective.
The National Security Secretariat will play a central role in cultivating personnel with a high degree of foreign-language skill, international experiences and specialized knowledge, the sources said.
Also, working closely with the Cabinet Bureau of Personnel Affairs, the secretariat will manage in an integrated way candidates from ministries and agencies for future heads of international organizations, so that Japan can strategically select target posts and the best timing of fielding candidates, according to the sources.