By Mayumi Terashima and Rie Tagawa / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers
The election for the director-general post of the World Trade Organization has entered its final stage, with the candidates narrowed down to the final two — a Nigerian and a South Korean. But there was no Japanese candidate, as the government gave up on fielding one.
China has occupied leadership posts at one international body after another, increasing its presence on the world stage. The Japanese government and ruling parties, with a rising sense of urgency, aim for Japan to hold top posts in international bodies, but they must overcome challenges such as a shortage of qualified personnel.
At a joint meeting of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Foreign Affairs Division and the Research Commission on Foreign Affairs on Wednesday, an LDP lawmaker pressed a senior Foreign Ministry official who was explaining the situation surrounding the election, saying, “Why doesn’t a Japanese candidate run for WTO director-general?”
Japan has never fielded its own candidate in an election for the WTO top post before. An official related to trade issues said, “Amid the mounting U.S.-China friction, it would be a golden opportunity for Japan to hold the post as a coordinator, but there was no one appropriate for the position who already has experience in a cabinet post.”
One of the reasons for the mounting dissatisfaction within the LDP is that South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee, who had not initially been seen as a favorite, advanced to be one of the final candidates. The other final candidate is former Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
After an unofficial meeting on the director-general election at its headquarters in Geneva on Wednesday, the WTO spokesperson said that key member states and regions, except for the United States, supported the Nigerian candidate. The member states and regions plan to hold a meeting on Nov. 9 to reach an official agreement to support the Nigerian candidate.
In the election for the WTO director-general post, after candidates are given recommendations by member states and regions, the number of candidates is gradually narrowed down with the approval of the general meeting and the final candidates are decided.
■ China gets ahead
China’s rise in the competition for top posts at international bodies has been prominent. The top posts at four of 15 U.N. specialized agencies — officially described as international organizations that coordinate their work with the United Nations — are held by officials from China.
Starting with the director-general of the U.N. Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in 2013, all four of the Chinese in top posts were sent by the administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping. It has been pointed out that China has won votes from developing countries in Africa, Latin America and elsewhere by means such as its economic assistance to these countries, thus tilting the selection process in its own favor.
In the agencies whose top posts have been held by officials from China, organizational operations that seem to prioritize China’s interests are noticeable.
UNIDO and the International Telecommunication Union publicly support China’s national policies through such measures as holding international conferences on China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which is intended to create a huge economic bloc.
In 2015, Fang Liu from the Chinese aviation authority assumed the post of the secretary-general of the International Civil Aviation Organization. Since 2016, the ICAO has not invited Taiwan, which is in confrontation with China, to its general meetings.