Osaka feels blindsided, cheated out of summit

by Eric Johnston

OSAKA — Thursday’s announcement by Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi that next year’s Group of Eight summit will be held in Okinawa, Fukuoka, and Miyazaki came as a bitter disappointment to Osaka officials, who until recently believed their city was the front-runner.

Osaka was confident of winning the bid given its record of having hosted the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum meetings in 1995. Foreign Ministry officials had publicly declared Osaka to be more than capable of handling the event.

Osaka city officials were more concerned about the city’s bid for the 2008 Olympics, and Osaka Prefecture, mired in a fiscal crisis, could not afford to spend a lot of money on a summit campaign, as Fukuoka and Miyazaki did.

Over the past year, both cities showed a strong determination to win the bid, decorating city streets with posters and banners, and carrying out extensive lobbying campaigns in Japan and overseas. Miyazaki even set up extensive Web pages in all the languages of the G8 countries.

A few weeks ago, Miyazaki also decided to propose a Kyushu Summit that would split the conference with Fukuoka. Then Osaka officials realized their city was no longer a sure bet.

In the wake of the loss, Osaka officials are pointing the finger of blame at each other. Prefectural officials feel the city was less than enthusiastic and more concerned about its Olympic bid.

“Other cities, especially Miyazaki and Fukuoka ran long, passionate public relations campaigns. Osaka didn’t,” said Mitsuyo Hara of the Osaka prefectural public relations’ office.

City officials, on the other hand, said the prefecture didn’t lobby the central government hard enough.

Others in the Osaka business community say past successes created a feeling of overconfidence among officials. “The city and the prefecture were convinced that because Osaka had successfully hosted the APEC summit and was bidding for the Olympics, it would automatically be given the G8 summit,” said a member of the Osaka Chamber of Commerce involved with the bid who refused to be named.

The one thing Osaka government and business officials agree on is that the central government’s stated reason for not choosing Osaka — that it would be difficult to host the summit and prepare for the 2008 bid at the same time — sounds phony. While Osaka will declare its IOC candidacy next year, the 2008 host city won’t be selected until autumn 2001.

Politics, rather than logistics, appear to have been the biggest stumbling block, say local officials. The Liberal Democratic Party is strong in Fukuoka and Miyazaki, and Taku Yamasaki, leader of a major LDP faction, is from Fukuoka and was a strong supporter of that city’s bid.

Osaka, by contrast, has a popular independent governor whom the LDP decided not to challenge in the April 11 election.