Japan needs strategy to raise profile through top positions in intl bodies

Japan has to work out an effective strategy to play a more important role in the international community.

The government has established a liaison council of related ministries and agencies to coordinate efforts to obtain executive posts at international organizations. Concrete measures have to be mapped out without delay, and they must be put into action.

The United Nations has 15 specialized agencies, including the World Health Organization, whose directors general and other top posts are determined by elections. Four U.N. agencies are led by Chinese officials, but none are led by Japanese.

Once, there were Japanese serving in top positions of international organizations because Japan had a large influence in developing countries backed by its huge official development assistance. In recent years, with declines in its ODA budget, Japan’s presence has been declining.

China is believed to be broadly tackling elections at international organizations by using an aid offensive to deepen relations with developing countries.

It is indispensable for international organizations, which set global rules and policies, to operate impartially and neutrally. However, as seen in its response to the WHO over the novel coronavirus, China conspicuously places priority on its own interests.

It has become important for Japan to play a more constructive role from its standpoint of placing importance on the rule of law and multilateral cooperation. Japan should take the initiative in creating universal rules in various fields.

Japan is supporting Masahiko Metoki, an executive officer of Japan Post Co., for the director general election of the Universal Postal Union (UPU), to be held as early as this summer. Metoki is a former postal bureaucrat and has long been involved in the UPU. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has to take the lead in promoting him to other countries.

In the elections for the heads of international organizations, overseas name recognition is required in addition to work experience, expert knowledge and language skills.

In Japan’s ministries and agencies, personnel who can demonstrate strengths in wide fields are favored, and there are not many officials who have long overseas experience.

In order to secure executive posts of international organizations, it is important for the government to foster bureaucrats with high expertise and to dispatch them to international organizations continuously to have them acquire experience.

In recent years, there has been a tendency for those who have served as cabinet ministers in their countries to be valued in elections for international posts. In Japan, there is no precedent for a Diet member who had served as a Cabinet minister to assume a key position at an international organization.

It is an urgent task to expand the pool of human resources, including not only Diet members but also those in other fields, who can skillfully handle international negotiations. Exchanges between the public and private sectors need to be promoted, and scholars and private-sector personnel must be actively utilized.

Another issue is increasing the number of Japanese officials working at U.N.-related organizations overall. The number currently stands at about 900. The government has put forward a goal of increasing this figure to 1,000. There is a system to send young employees from the private sector to international organizations. It is hoped that more young people will work actively in international organizations.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 13, 2021.