Like many Japanese, Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori will travel overseas in the Golden Week holiday period, which starts April 29. He will have little time to relax, however. Mori, who will chair the Group of Eight summit in southern Japan in July, will visit the participating nations to prepare for the summit.

Mori, who replaced ailing Keizo Obuchi as prime minister early this month, has little experience in diplomacy. In the three months to the summit, Mori will have to promote coordination among G8 nations on the main topics of discussion. The success of the summit will hinge on Mori’s diplomatic skills as chairman.

Mori will go first to Russia for talks with President-elect Vladimir Putin April 29. In early May, he will visit the leaders of Italy, France, Germany, Britain and Canada before meeting with U.S. President Bill Clinton in Washington.

The G8 summit is the only forum in which the Japanese prime minister will meet with Western leaders to discuss various international issues. Mori, as the host of the summit, must lay the groundwork for the summit. In a policy speech to the Diet April 7, Mori pledged to try to “build close relations of trust” with the other G8 leaders before the summit.

However, foreign reaction to Mori’s summit chairmanship is cool.

The Far Eastern Economic Review, noting in a recent issue that Mori has never served as finance minister or foreign minister, said his lack of foreign-policy experience “could prove a handicap” at the summit.

The summit will test Mori’s ability to deal with major international economic and political issues.

The economic issues to be discussed at the summit are likely to include the Internet-related “digital divide” between countries as the information-technology revolution progresses. Before he fell ill, Obuchi said the summit should discuss government roles in correcting that problem, which he said could widen gaps between rich and poor countries.

Regarding aid to poor countries, Japan will promise at the summit to forgive 100 percent of the debt flowing from Japan’s official development assistance incurred by heavily indebted poor countries. It will also pledge to forgive those same countries 100 percent of their non-ODA debts, including that from the defunct Export-Import Bank of Japan, instead of just 90 percent as promised at the Cologne summit last year.

G8 leaders will discuss macoreconomic policy coordination among Japan, the United States and other countries.

Trade discussions will focus on ways to expedite a new round of liberalization talks under the auspices of the World Trade Organization.

In international politics, talks will cover ways of preventing regional conflicts and promoting nuclear nonproliferation in the aftermath of the nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan, the early implementation of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty and U.N. reforms.

Although the summit is a forum for discussing global issues, Japan, the only Asian participant, should represent an Asian perspective in the discussions.

Japan and North Korea have started diplomatic normalization talks and a summit between North and South Korea has been set for June. Results of the Pyongyang talks will obviously be taken up at the G8 summit.

Meanwhile, the change of government in Taiwan will have significant influence on future China-Taiwan and U.S.-China relations.

Japan, China and South Korea joined the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations in a summit last November, pledging closer cooperation in East Asia in the first joint declaration they issued. To reflect the views of Pacific nations and areas, the Japanese government sponsored April 22 the second summit meeting of 16 nations and areas belonging to the South Pacific Forum.

From a bilateral perspective, Japan’s meetings with Russia and the U.S. are especially important. In the 1993 Tokyo Declaration, Japan and Russia pledged to conclude a peace treaty early by settling the bilateral territorial dispute over the Northern Territories. In a 1998 summit declaration issued in Moscow, the two countries pledged to try to conclude the pact by 2000. A summit agreement is the only way to break the deadlock in the negotiations. Mori must convince Putin that returning the disputed islands to Japanese control is in Russia’s interest.

Mori’s scheduled meeting with Clinton, whose cooperation he will need in chairing the summit, is extremely important. The U.S. is enjoying an unprecedented economic boom but is troubled by stock-market volatility. In recent years, Japan and the U.S. have managed to avoid serious disputes in their economic relations, but Kunihiko Saito, former Japanese ambassador to the U.S., warns: “When signs of recession emerge in the U.S., some Americans are likely to blame it on Japan.” Before something like that happens, Saito says, Japan should expedite economic recovery and promote market opening and deregulation.

The coming summit will be the 26th since 1975. Mori will be Japan’s 13th summiteer; both the German and French leaders will be their countries’ third participants. The U.S. and Britain will be represented by their fifth participants. Mori should remember that his insight will be tested in the talks with other leaders, who have much more experience than he does.

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