IQALUIT, Nunavut — Finance Minister Naoto Kan’s first real exposure to the international arena was not in the dazzling lights of New York, London or Paris. It was in Iqaluit, a tiny town in the Canadian tundra, the name of which means “place of many fish” in Inuktitut.
Kan attended a two-day meeting of the Group of Seven developed nations through Saturday, not to talk about angling but to discuss how best to return the global economy to a self-sustained recovery path.
Kan, who became finance minister a month ago, has had little experience dealing with global financial issues in his long political career.
His trip to Canada kept some Japanese officials and market players in suspense given that, for example, he talked about specific foreign exchange rates shortly after he assumed the post, roiling markets.
Their concern over possible gaffes was heightened after finding out that the Iqaluit meeting would provide a venue for the G7 finance chiefs to speak their minds more openly, rather than discussing planned agreements.
As host Canada also decided not to release a joint statement and only allowed finance ministers and central bank governors to attend some of the sessions, not only reporters but senior officials were eager to know what they were really discussing.
Despite the unease around him, Kan appeared to enjoy the trip.
“Until just before my arrival, I was in a tough environment, as I had to face questions from opposition parties in the Diet,” Kan said at a joint news conference after the meeting. “I’m glad that I’m now in this environment where I can enjoy very clean air.”
Kan also said he was interested in riding a dogsled but mentioned nothing on the economy during the news conference. While Kan’s readiness to talk to reporters was good for the media, his G7 colleagues are unlikely to have appreciated it.
The only time Kan remained relatively tight-lipped was after holding talks with his U.S. counterpart, Timothy Geithner, ahead of the G7 meeting, saying he was asked by Washington not to disclose the details.
But apart from that instance, Kan readily revealed some of what the finance leaders discussed at the meeting, including remarks made by other G7 representatives, something usually regarded as a breach of protocol.
This time especially, their meeting was intended to be more informal and secret.
Kan, one of the founders of the DPJ and its first leader, is being touted as a possible candidate to succeed Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama should the DPJ weather its recent fall in public support and hold onto power over the long term.
After surviving both the cold weather and careless remarks, the question now is whether Kan will be able to nurture Japan’s nascent recovery.
Whether Kan knew it, one of the few roads in the town, which he enjoyed staying in so much, is called rather unpropitiously Road to Nowhere.
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