Next week’s Group of Eight summit in Canada will see world leaders encouraging their African counterparts to adopt self-help efforts to reduce poverty, as well as seeking to underscore the global fight against terrorism, according to Japan’s top negotiator on these issues.
Shotaro Oshima, deputy foreign minister for economic affairs, said the summit will also return to its original concept, a forum for frank and intimate discussions between leaders, with only a handful of officials allowed to accompany the leaders to the Canadian Rockies resort of Kananaskis, Alberta.
“It will be a very relaxed setting and will offer leaders a chance to talk frankly and build close relations,” Oshima told The Japan Times in a recent interview.
Unlike previous summits, which have taken place over three days, the Kananaskis gathering will only take place on June 26 and 27 and will not yield a long G8 communique.
The host nation will instead issue a few pages of the chairman’s statement summarizing actual discussions held by the leaders.
Oshima, who has been discussing summit agendas with other G8 “sherpas,” or personal representatives of the leaders, said the leaders will probably spend all of June 27 discussing African issues, with invited African leaders participating in part of the sessions.
It will be the first time in summit history that African leaders will sit at the same table as G8 leaders. Leaders from developing countries were invited to the previous two summits, but the host countries held meetings with them separately from the G8 sessions.
“It will be an important opportunity to directly reflect the voices of Africa in the G8 talks and also to convey our message to Africa,” Oshima said.
The biggest “souvenir” for Africa will be the G8 action plan for Africa’s development, which covers comprehensive assistance measures in areas including conflict prevention, good governance, health and education, and debt reduction for the poorest countries, he said.
Oshima pointed out that Africa is now a key focus because the industrialized world is gravely concerned that the continent has been marginalized by the advent of globalization and that poverty is one of the root causes of terrorism.
“Africa was to be the main focus of this year’s summit from an early stage, but it became much more relevant and important after Sept. 11,” Oshima said.
On Africa’s part, leaders last year adopted the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, or NEPAD, which stresses Africa’s own efforts in carrying out development initiatives, including promoting democracy, developing infrastructure and information technology, and fighting infectious diseases.
“African leaders are now fostering the notion that they cannot just depend on aid donors and must exert their own leadership in good governance and macroeconomic management to call in investment,” Oshima said. “Our task is to support the NEPAD initiative as partners of Africa.”
Leading NEPAD countries — Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria, South Africa and Senegal — are the ones invited to the Kananaskis forum, along with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.
Although Canada pledged 500 million Canadian dollars toward Africa’s development in December and the United States in March declared a 50 percent increase in development assistance over the next three years, mainly for Africa, Oshima said the G8 wants to avoid making the summit a pledging conference.
“If we narrow down our discussions to how much money we’ll give to Africa, it will run counter to the NEPAD spirit,” he said, adding that the focus of Japan’s aid will be in the areas of health and education.
One of the new concepts for aid to Africa is a selective approach pushed by the U.S. and Japan to offer assistance to countries that are making visible efforts toward good governance and macroeconomic management, Oshima said.
It remains to be seen, however, how much support the European countries will show for such an approach, because Europe is traditionally in favor of creating a single trust fund that collects contributions from donor countries and distributes the money for humanitarian needs.
On the war against terrorism, Oshima said the leaders will summarize the specific international cooperation measures taken since Sept. 11 and confirm their commitment to continue cooperating in this fight.
The steps include sanctions to stop the flow of funds to terrorists, enhancing aviation security, control of arms exports, the denial of all means of support to terrorism, and the identification and removal of terrorist threats.
Keeping weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorist networks will be a key theme for further G8 cooperation, Oshima said.
Such action includes helping Russia to safely dispose of plutonium and obsolete nuclear weapons, he said.
Iraq, which the U.S. has branded as a part of an “axis of evil” that Washington may ultimately elect to attack, will also probably be high on a hidden agenda.
But given the reservations of European countries, any discussion of Iraq will probably not emerge publicly as a central point of the talks.
“Iraq is not going to be the focus,” Oshima said. “It will be discussed along with other regional concerns, including the Middle East and India-Pakistan tensions.”
The world economy is also a summit theme, but discussions on this topic are expected to be low key, with leaders only confirming the results of the G7 finance ministers’ meeting held earlier this month, Oshima said.
The finance ministers voiced confidence for a global economic recovery, while they avoided singling out Japan’s slump and playing up concerns over the prospects in the U.S.
“If we can confirm that we are working on sustainable growth, it will be good for the economic discussion,” Oshima said.
The summit will be chaired by Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, a nine-time summit veteran, and attended by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, French President Jacques Chirac, Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
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