After a first day of committee sessions on Tuesday, all delegations had their Wednesday morning free to visit their respective Permanent Missions to the United Nations. Our Delegation therefore headed off to the UN Plaza, right next to the UN Headquarters, to meet with H.E. Dr. Takahiro Shinyo, Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary and Deputy Permanent Representative of Japan to the United Nations. Ambassador Shinyo gave us the honor of taking nearly two hours of his time to present us with Japan’s work at the United Nations and answer our many questions.
To our surprise, Ambassador Shinyo greeted us in perfect German and even offered to proceed with the entire briefing in the language of Goethe. Obviously delighted at speaking German, Ambassador Shinyo, who studied at Göttingen University and was on post in Germany and Switzerland, shared with us his love of the German language and strongly commended the international students among our delegation. We however declined his offer, for the sake of our international students and in order to stick to our working language and lingua franca of the conference.
Ambassador Shinyo first presented us with the many challenges facing Japan in the world of international organizations in 2008. This year, Japan is holding the presidency of the Peacebuilding Commission, the G8, and is running for election in the Human Rights Council (in May 2008, Japan was re-elected as a member of the Human Rights Council for another three-year term), the ECOSOC and the Security Council. Furthermore, Japan will be hosting the fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD). He then moved on to mention the main topics covered by Japan at the UN.
Ambassador Shinyo sees a “shift” in the UN concept of security from a military security to a human security. This change also has repercussions on the work of the Security Council, which has been recently busy with climate change or human rights issues. The concept of security is not only shifting, it is expanding. Ambassador Shinyo was later asked about a definition of human security: recalling the current debate on the definition of terrorism, his answer was that we need to “avoid unnecessary legalistic discussions on definitions”, the importance being to have a concept. He then elaborated on this concept, which focuses on the need to protect and empower the individual and the community, whereas many countries at the UN remain “obsessed” with the notion of sovereignty.
In this evolution of the security concept, climate change is high on the agenda. Japan has contributed to the international “beauty contest” for climate initiatives by the launch of “Cool Earth 50”, a program that sets targets for the reduction of emissions.
The other main topic covered by Japan is the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Ambassador Shinyo characterized 2008 as a turning point and therefore recognized the need to increase Japan’s ODA. In efforts to achieve the MDGs, Japan has a particular focus on Africa. Ambassador Shinyo explained why Japan cultivates a privileged and vibrant relation with the African continent. Japan, a country that has no colonial past in Africa, is “the country which tried to help Africa in the early days”. TICAD was launched in 1993 already, a decade during which too little international attention was paid to Africa. Ambassador Shinyo insisted on the difference between charity and assistance, stressing that Japan was not pursuing a political agenda in Africa. Later faced with a question on China’s involvement in Africa, Ambassador Shinyo answered that China has been following Japan’s lead in Africa, “but not in the same way”. China’s aim is a “very political” one, said Ambassador Shinyo, before pointing out the weight of the African countries at the UN in matters of votes. China’s energy needs to meet its economic development lead it to a “give-and-take” relation with Africa, whereas Japan is less politically motivated.
Moving to the important topic of UN reform, Ambassador Shinyo reminded us of the efforts to reform the Security Council. 2005 was a decisive year of energetic activities by the so-called G4 - Germany, Brazil, India, and Japan. These however failed to achieve a result due to the opposition of countries united in the so-called former “Coffee Club,” now referred to as “Uniting for Consensus: UFC” Group. Ambassador Shinyo displayed with humor Japan’s determination by suggesting the creation of a “Sake Club” supporting Japan’s bid. “Active consultations” are currently being conducted within an overarching group.
Coming to the budget reform, Ambassador Shinyo recalled the “huge amount” Japan contributes to the UN making it the second largest contributor (16.62% or US$ 332.6 million of the regular UN budget in 2007) and peacekeeping operations and gave figures about China and Russia (2.67 % and 1.2 % respectively).
Concluding with Human Rights, Ambassador Shinyo briefed us on the issue of abductions by the DPRK, concerning 16 Japanese having been kidnapped by North Korea, e.g., to teach Japanese language and culture to Korean agents, and mentioned Japan’s efforts to pass a resolution on the subject in the Third Committee of the General Assembly.
Ambassador Shinyo finally took questions from the delegation. The questions mostly focused on issues discussed in the various committees, ranging from the situation in the Middle East to solar energy, nuclear disarmament or the international economy.
Scheduled just after the beginning of the conference, this meeting with Ambassador Shinyo at the Japanese Mission was extremely precious in supporting the Delegates in the course they had taken in their committees. It also gave us a sense of being an “actual” Japanese diplomat and made us return to our committee sessions even more committed to representing Japan and defending its interests. Our many thanks and recognition go to Ambassador Shinyo and to the lovely staff at the Japanese Mission.