Sino-Japanese competition and global power projection

Updated On: Sep 29, 2006

Abe has wasted no time since being confirmed as Prime Minister to seek to mend ties with China and South Korea. His Foreign Minister, Taro Aso, has been tasked to get summit meetings going as early as October. 

However, it's still early to tell if the overtures would be reciprocated.  But in the meantime, competition between Japanand China is taking place at another realm – the race for the Director’s position at the World Health Organisation (WHO). 

Chinahas backed former Hong Kong health director Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun as its preferred candidate and its leadership has allocated the dynamic and powerful Vice-Premier Wu Yi to personally oversee Chan's success in the global arena.

"The central government and its leaders would support Margaret in all ways and we would use all methods to campaign for her," Ms Wu said, adding that the State Council had set up a special taskforce to help Dr Chan's campaign. Dr Chan stands a good chance as she was the WHO assistant director-general, communicable diseases and has a wealth of experience in tackling global health issues. Detractors of Chan, however, says she was less than efficient in handling the SARS outbreak in 2003, especially in the disease's infant stages.

Chan's rival is just as experienced and backed up by Japan's economic and donor muscles. Dr Shigeru Omi, who is the WHO's Western Pacific regional director, enjoys strong backing from the Japanese government for his candidacy. Japan's formidable economic resources brought Omi on a tour of 34 countries as opposed to Chan who only covered 15. Omi's presentation was snazzy with image packaging (smiles, smiles and more smiles) and well-choreographed video tapes.

Both Chinaand Japan hosted high-profile lunches in Aucklandto lobby for their candidates. The contrast could not be any clearer between the world's largest economic superpower/creditor nation and a rising power that quite recently become a trillion dollar economy. Just as the competition reflects the rise and rise ofNortheast Asia, it is also a sign of tectonic changes in East Asia, especially the gap in power projection and economic clout between Southeast and Northeast Asia.

As spotlight focused on the rival Chinese and Japanese candidate, Southeast Asia's own bid, Myanmar's Nay Htun, almost went unnoticed. Short of money and short of support from ASEAN colleagues who are at odds with Myanmar's government and at times considering its expulsion from the organization, Nay Htun was unable to embark on a global tour unlike Chan and Omi. Nay's nervousness at Myanmar's own internal political dynamics and uncertainties about support from the ASEAN region could be seen by the fact that he was reluctant to even share his manifesto for the race with the media without express permission from his bosses back home.

On top of that, Myanmarand its ASEAN colleagues are still baffled and grappling with a recent military coup in their region which has also impacted the chance of the Thai candidate Surakiat’s race to succeed Kofi Annan as the Secretary-General of the UN.  Ex-WTO boss Supachai, also currently with UNCTAD, who has been a high-profile de facto international ambassador for the ASEAN region might be called home to Bangkokto be interim-Prime Minister.  

Nevertheless, whichever candidate becomes the winner would have to tackle the very sticky and indeed politically-deadlocked problem of a possible bird flu pandemic in Indonesia which has thus far refused to cull its millions of chickens and is currently facing a record 52nd death from the virus, a possible human infection cluster and incapacitated donor money due to its deep-seated corrupt system.  The Southeast Asian region still has a lot to do, and get its house in order before raising its international or regional profiles.


Wu Yi Sees a Tight WHO Race (South ChinaMorning Post, 26 September 2006)

Chinese Vice Premier Confident Chan Will Best Omi in WHO Election (JapanEconomic Newswire, 25 September 2006)

Asian Giants Jostle As the Contest Heats Up (South China Morning Post, 25 September 2006)

Nay Htun (South China Morning Post, 25 September 2006)

New Rules of Succession (South China Morning Post, 22 September 2006)

Margaret Chan Has Good Chance (South China Morning Post, 22 September 2006)