Brazil, Germany, India and Japan launched a united bid for permanent UN Security Council seats, arguing that expanded membership was crucial to addressing new global threats.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said in Beijing on Tuesday that the United Nations Security Council was "not a board of directors" and its composition should not be decided "according to the financial contribution of its members."
A joint declaration said all four countries, "based on the firmly shared recognition that they are legitimate candidates for permanent membership in an expanded Security Council, support each other's candidature."
The statement followed a meeting between Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, and the Indian and Japanese prime ministers, Manmohan Singh and Junichiro Koizumi, at a New York hotel on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
Their proposal, which also envisages a permanent seat for Africa and an expansion of the non-permanent Council membership, would represent the largest shake-up at the top decision-making body of the United Nations in its nearly 60-year history.
Reform of the 15-nation Security Council has the firm support of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who set up a high-level panel that is scheduled to offer concrete proposals for change in December.
The council has had the same five permanent members with veto power -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- since the United Nations was established in the wake of World War II.
Ten other nations are elected as non-permanent members for two-year terms each.
Reform of the council, which passes resolutions that are legally binding on the UN's 191 member states, is seen as overdue by many observers, both supporters and critics of the institution alike.
Annan has said the question of reform took on added urgency after last year's crisis over Iraq, when the United States went to war without the backing of the council.
"In order for the international community to effectively address the various threats and challenges that it presently faces, it is important to reform the United Nations as a whole," Tuesday's joint statement said.
The common front established by the four nations contains compelling individual claims for permanent Council membership.
"All four states regard themselves as natural candidates," Fischer said after the meeting, "based on what they are doing for the UN, what they are capable of doing and also because of their regional roles."
Old regional animosities, however, are likely to ensure that none enjoys an easy ride.
Pakistan could find it hard to accept India, their nuclear-armed neighbor, while Italy, a solid ally of the United States in Iraq, has already said it will oppose Germany, which did not back the war.
Brazil's bid might get a lukewarm reception in Mexico and Argentina, and China on Tuesday indicated reservations over Japan's candidacy, saying the UN was "not a board of directors" whose composition could be decided by "the financial contribution of its members."
At least one of the five current permanent members, Britain, has already voiced its support for all four bids.
Addressing the General Assembly later in the day, Koizumi fleshed out Japan's credentials, pointing to its reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as its "leading role" in talks to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue.
"Countries with the will and resources to play a major role in international peace and security must always take part in the Council's decision-making process," he said.
Koizumi also claimed a unique voice for Japan as the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack.
The reform question has been thrown back and forth for years and it remains to be seen whether Annan's panel can come up with a working or acceptable plan.
Meanwhile no consensus has emerged on who should represent Africa, and there is debate over whether geographical criteria alone are sufficient, with many since the Iraq war now pushing for a dedicated seat for a Muslim nation.
(China Daily via agencies, September 22, 2004)