Is It Time for an Asian UN Chief? ; the World Will Be Watching China's Role in Finding a Successor to Kofi Annan

Article excerpt

The United Nations is in the process of seeking a successor to Secretary- General Kofi Annan, whose term expires at the end of this year.

Many believe that this time, it is Asia's turn to fill the position. Mr. Annan himself voiced the same idea when visiting Tokyo earlier this month. The selection has already captured worldwide attention, and expectations are that China will prove itself to be a key player in recruiting an Asian for the post. With enormous power derived from explosive economic growth, China has been attempting to increase its influence around the globe. The process of choosing the next UN chief could reveal how China is shaping international politics for the coming decades.

Currently there are three Asians who have already declared their candidacy for the job: South Korean foreign minister Ban Ki-Moon; Thai deputy premier Surakiart Sathirathai; and Sri Lanka's Jayantha Dhanapala, UN undersecretary-general for disarmament from 1998 to 2003.

After Ban Ki-Moon's candidacy was announced in mid-February, the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun immediately ruled out a possible Tokyo nod for him because of Seoul's fierce opposition to the Japanese bid for a permanent seat on the Security Council. Mr. Surakiart is the official candidate of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and he claims support from 128 UN members. However, his campaign is now shadowed by recent political turmoil in Bangkok and the defeat Thailand suffered earlier this month in the election for members of the newly established UN Human Rights Council.

Former UN Undersecretary-General Dhanapala seems to be in a better position. With a long career in multilateral diplomacy focusing on peace and security, his qualifications are highly competitive. Educated in the US, Mr. Dhanapala served a two-year tour as Sri Lankan ambassador to Washington from 1995 to 1997. In addition to English, he also speaks Chinese and French. In media interviews, Dhanapala has pledged his commitment to UN reform.

People might argue that if selected, Dhanapala would be another UN chief, like Annan, out of its bureaucratic ranks. However, firsthand experience in the huge world body would be a considerable benefit toward executing any meaningful reform.

For all three candidates, as longtime UN experts predict, the real competition will probably begin in the summer, before the UN General Assembly convenes in September.

In accordance with the UN Charter, "The Secretary General shall be appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council. …