THE Japanese have been hinting for years that they deserve a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Finally, with Foreign Minister Yohei Kono's speech to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 27, at least part of the hinting is over. ``I wish to state,'' Mr. Kono said, ``that Japan is prepared ... to discharge its responsibilities as a permanent member of the Security Council.''
But now something new moves to the top of the hint list: whether status as a ``permanent member'' necessarily means Japan will gain veto power - the right to scotch a UN operation it does not endorse.
Kono did not touch on this topic, but Japanese foreign ministry officials say Japan does want veto power.
Noting that the five existing permanent members - Britain, China, France, Russia, and the US - have vetoes, Japanese officials say a veto comes with the status. But this they say privately.
The United States, which has been locked in difficult trade negotiations with Japan and may be looking for something nice to say to its allies in Tokyo, strongly endorsed Japan's bid Sept. 28.
``President Clinton has personally underscored his backing for Japan's membership,'' Ambassador Walter Mondale told reporters, ``and my government's support is rock solid.''
But he, too, demurred on the question of veto power. ``We have not taken a position on the veto, except in the context of the working group,'' Mr. Mondale said, referring to a UN group now examining ways to reform the Security Council.
The Council was constituted at the end of World War II. Many critics say it reflects a global balance of power that no longer exists.
A variety of options for reform are under discussion, with countries such as Germany, Brazil, and India vying for permanent seats, but the UN has said it will not take action on the matter until next year.
One person who is unafraid to tackle the veto question is UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
During a visit to Tokyo recently, he delighted Japanese officialdom by saying, ``I believe that participation of Japan as a full permanent member of the Security Council, with the right to veto like all the five permanent members, will reinforce the Security Council.''