If 22 Million Chinese Prevail at U.N., Japan Won't
By JOSEPH KAHN
Published: April 1, 2005
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BEIJING, March 31 - A grass-roots Chinese campaign to keep Japan out of the
United Nations Security Council has gathered some 22 million signatures,
increasing the chances that China will block Japan's bid to join the elite
group, organizers and analysts said Thursday.
The petition effort, conducted through popular Chinese Web sites, enjoys
tacit support from the government, which has allowed state-controlled media
to cover the campaign prominently.
Japan is expected to be among several nations granted a permanent seat on a
revamped Security Council under a plan that could come up for a vote in
September. As one of the five existing permanent members, China has the
power to veto the proposal. It has not said how it plans to vote.
If China were to prevent Japan's elevation, it would be the most direct
confrontation between Asia's leading powers since they re-established
diplomatic ties in 1972.
Relations between the countries have sharply deteriorated in recent weeks,
strained by competition for energy resources, disputes over the way history
textbooks assess Japan's role in World War II, Japan's pledge to aid the
United States in defending Taiwan and the recent incursion of a Chinese
submarine into Japanese waters.
By allowing millions of people to sign their names to a petition against
Japan, Beijing's new leadership seems determined to show that recent
Japanese actions have so inflamed popular sentiment that China has no choice
but to adopt a tougher diplomatic line.
Officials may also see the petition as leverage to force concessions from
Japan as the price of admission to the Security Council. It could also serve
as cover for a veto, which would be one of the most bold assertions of
Chinese authority in many years. But the campaign has the potential to
restrict China's diplomatic leeway, making it harder to reach a quiet
compromise. China could also feel pressured to veto the whole United Nations
overhaul if the plan promotes Japan, an unusual position for a country that
has rarely used its veto power to oppose an international consensus.
"China must vote no and not just abstain," said Tong Zeng, a longtime
organizer of efforts to force Japan to recognize and apologize for World War
II atrocities. "The government may not want to take the lead, but the
Chinese people have taken the lead."
In Tokyo, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said, "The Chinese government has
said the U.N. needs reform, so we believe that the Chinese and Japanese
governments both have the same type of feeling and thinking on this issue."
"The petition itself is being conducted by private citizens and, according
to press reports, the same petitioners' names keep appearing," the
spokesman, Hatsuhisa Takashima, said. "So we just don't know how valid this
petition effort is."
The effort to rally anti-Japan sentiment in China began in late February,
when several overseas Web sites began circulating a petition directed at the
United Nations, which is currently debating a blueprint for changing its
It gathered momentum last week when leading Chinese Web sites, including
portals like Sina, Sohu and Netease, advertised the drive with links on
their main pages. Some sites allow users to register their names through
text messages sent from mobile phones.
After initially aiming to collect one million signatures, organizers now say
they think they can gather 30 million before they present the petition to
Secretary General Kofi Annan. The New China News Agency reported Thursday
that 22.2 million Chinese had signed the petition so far.
"The response was far beyond our expectations," said Lu Yunfei, who has led
several grass-roots protests against Japan. "No one - not the United Nations
nor the Chinese government - can ignore so many people expressing their
There was no way to independently verify whether 22 million people had in
fact signed the petition or whether they all did so voluntarily. But many
Web sites kept their own tallies of how many people had signed up through
their portal, and there were no telltale indications that the effort had
been centrally organized.
Chinese officials have not explicitly endorsed the petition, but they have
offered supportive comments.
Liu Jianchao, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said this week that the effort
reflected growing alarm about Japan's treatment of history.
"Japan has to take a responsible attitude toward history to build trust
among the people of Asia, including China," he said. He added that China
believed that the United Nations overhaul should mainly focus on increasing
the power of developing countries rather than the rich industrialized ones.
Japan has the world's second-largest economy and is one of the largest
financial contributors to the United Nations. The United States has backed
Japan's demand to become a Security Council member.
Mr. Annan appeared to signal that Japan and Germany would be prime
candidates for a revised Security Council lineup when he discussed plans to
remake the governing structure last week.
The council should "increase the involvement in decision-making of those who
contribute most to the United Nations financially, militarily and
diplomatically, specifically in terms of contributions to United Nations
assessed budgets," he told reporters.
Japan and Germany are by far the largest contributors that do not have
permanent seats on the Security Council. Japan has said it will cut its
contributions if it does not get a seat.
North and South Korea, which were colonized by Japan, have already said that
they oppose Japan's bid. They argue that Tokyo has not done as much as
Germany to atone for its imperialist abuses and that it cannot become a
leading member of the international community unless it addresses the legacy
of mistrust among its neighbors.
China, which has historically sought to keep relations with Japan on an even
keel, has officially remained neutral. The two countries have a robust
trading relationship. China last year replaced the United States as Japan's
largest export market, and China's strong growth has helped pull the
sluggish Japanese economy out of recession.
But Beijing has also encouraged anti-Japanese sentiment. Textbooks,
newspapers and government-sponsored films emphasize China's suffering after
the 1935 Japanese invasion. They largely gloss over the improvement in
relations, including generous Japanese aid packages, that occurred after the
two sides re-established relations.
China often uses public opinion as a diplomatic lever. Its news media
stirred up an anti-American frenzy after a United States spy plan collided
with a Chinese fighter and crash-landed on Chinese soil in 2001. But when
the crisis passed, news coverage resumed a more neutral tone. Managing
sentiment about Japan is trickier, partly because there is a deeper
reservoir of resentment against Japan left over from the war. Mr. Tong, the
organizer, says the police have begun allowing people to take part in
small-scale anti-Japanese activities rather than repressing them in the name
of social stability as they once did. But he said that did little to satisfy
popular demands for a tougher approach to Japan.
"There has never before been a petition campaign of this magnitude in
China," he said. "It will be much harder for the government to suppress in