After weeks of heated debate and lobbying, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi decided Thursday that Japan will hold the 2000 summit of the Group of Eight major powers in the city of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture.
It will be the first time for Japan to host the meeting of G8 leaders outside of Tokyo.
Meetings of G8 foreign ministers and finance ministers on the sidelines of the summit will be held separately in the cities of Fukuoka and Miyazaki on the southern island of Kyushu.
The government has named the 2000 gathering “The Kyushu-Okinawa Summit.” It has yet to be decided which of the two cities in Kyushu will host which meeting, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka said in making the announcement.
“Today’s decision will lead Okinawa toward a brighter 21st century, and it is also a reflection of the fact that the prime minister, his government and the Japanese public as a whole have brought forth their most sincere feelings toward the people of Okinawa in the form of the summit,” Nonaka said.
He indicated that Okinawa’s long history of suffering became the decisive factor, noting the islands were the major victim of World War II because they were the only ones to experience ground battles and because of the ensuing 27-year occupation by the United States.
Despite the wishes of Okinawans for a reduced U.S. military presence in their prefecture, U.S. military facilities in the island prefecture still account for 75 percent of all land allocated by Tokyo for use by U.S. forces in Japan, he added.
Nago was the city earlier proposed by Tokyo as the site for an offshore heliport to take over the helicopter functions of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in Ginowan after both countries agreed in 1996 to relocate the base within the prefecture.
That plan, however, has been deadlocked since 1997 because of staunch opposition led by former Okinawa Gov. Masahide Ota.
Eight locations had been bidding to host the 2000 summit: Chiba, Miyazaki, Okinawa and Osaka prefectures, and the cities of Sapporo, Yokohama, Hiroshima and Fukuoka.
The decision was initially scheduled to be announced Wednesday, but Obuchi decided to postpone it because he wanted the Foreign Ministry to prepare further documents on the candidate sites and he needed time to scrutinize them.
Nonaka, who doubles as chief of the Okinawa Development Agency, said none of the candidate cities had major obstacles to hosting the summit, and it was tough to pick one city.
But apparently Okinawa won as a result of the Obuchi government’s desire to soothe frustration over the economy and the U.S. bases in the nation’s poorest prefecture.
Speaking to reporters after the announcement by Nonaka, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi said, “Each of the eight locations was a desirable candidate.”
Obuchi made the decision after receiving reports on the candidate areas from the Foreign Ministry and discussing the issue with Cabinet ministers earlier in the day, government officials said.
On Monday, the government decided to implement six special economic stimulus measures for Okinawa, including building facilities to set up a special free-trade zone in the prefecture.
Talk that Obuchi would decide on the venue before leaving on a trip to the U.S., which began Thursday, led to intensified lobbying by bidders. Leaders of the candidate cities and prefectures aggressively approached Obuchi and government officials.
Because of the heated campaigning, the government postponed the decision several times.
Nonaka said the government will formally invite the leaders of the G8 nations to the 2000 meeting at this year’s summit to be held in Cologne, Germany, in mid-June.
The government said the main venue in Nago will be the Okinawa International Friendship Hall to be built in the marine resort area of Cape Busena.
The government will coordinate with other governments to set the timetable for the summit in the latter half of July 2000, probably from July 21 to July 23, government officials said.
The G8 consists of the G7 states — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.S. — and Russia.
Britain, host of last year’s G8 summit, was the first to split the summit sessions, hosting ministerial meetings in London and the leaders’ talks in Birmingham. Germany will also split the sessions at the June summit.