During his nine-day whirlwind trip of seven major nations that ended last weekend, Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori laid the groundwork for a G8 summit scheduled for July in Okinawa, a meeting that he will chair as head of the host government. His main purpose, of course, was to get acquainted with leaders of the other summit nations and secure promises of cooperation to help make the meeting a success. In this respect, he has made an auspicious start.

Nevertheless, the trip has left a key question largely unanswered: Precisely what does the prime minister intend to achieve at the summit? Not that the question was skirted. The fact is he did not, or was unable to, discuss it in depth, perhaps for lack of time. Still, the impression is that, overall, the “round the world” trip ended on a lackluster note.

The get-acquainted journey was a must for Mr. Mori, who unexpectedly took office in early April after his predecessor, Mr. Keizo Obuchi, was incapacitated by a stroke. Having little diplomatic experience, Mr. Mori was an unknown internationally. With the Okinawa summit around the corner — a great occasion to sell himself on the world stage — he needed very much to establish a personal relationship with other G8 leaders.

To a degree, he has succeeded in doing just that. But one wonders how far he has gone to explain his policies in his own language and how much understanding and support he has obtained from his counterparts. He has made it clear that he will press ahead with economic and other policies of the Obuchi administration. That is only to be expected, considering the extraordinary circumstances in which he took office. As the new prime minister, however, he would have done well to tell clearly what his priorities are and how he will carry them out.

Mr. Mori proposed three subjects of discussion at the summit: “further prosperity,” “peace of mind” and “world stability.” The first title refers particularly to the narrowing of the “digital divide” created by the information technology revolution, the correction of the widening gap between rich and poor and debt relief for the poorest of developing countries. His prescriptions for “peace of mind” include measures to combat contagious diseases and international organized crime. World stability is to be attained chiefly through conflict prevention, disarmament and nuclear nonproliferation.

He is right to select these subjects. In particular, the resolution of the information and wealth gaps, conflict prevention and disarmament hold the key to world peace and prosperity. However, identifying the problems is not enough. The real question is how to solve them. On this score Prime Minister Mori seemed to remain mostly silent.

Mr. Mori expressed a desire to “reflect Asia’s voices” in summit discussions. Peace and stability in the region, he pointed out, are overshadowed by continuing uncertainties, such as the situation in the Korean Peninsula and China-Taiwan relations. Given the possible international ramifications of these issues, it will be worthwhile to incorporate the Asian perspective in the Okinawa meeting.

The fact remains, however, that the G8 summit is essentially a club of rich nations that is usually led by the United States and Western powers. Speaking for Asia — a region of political, economic and cultural diversity — in such a select forum is easier said than done. To live up to his words, Mr. Mori will need to do more than just repeat his predecessor’s phrases.

G8 leaders, meanwhile, expressed hopes for a sustainable economic recovery in Japan. In this regard, they seemed particularly concerned about the staying power of the Mori administration, which faces a general election that most likely will be held in late June. Because the election precedes the summit, the ruling coalition will find it even more compelling to win the balloting and put its administration on a firmer footing.

The meeting with U.S. President Bill Clinton, held on the last leg of the trip, was a dud, in the sense that no progress was made on two major bilateral issues: relocation of the Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in Okinawa and reduction of NTT interconnection fees. The fact that the two leaders failed to move forward in these vital areas of bilateral relations could affect dialogue at the summit.

The basic challenge for the Okinawa summit, coming at the close of a century marked by war and conflict, is to map out guidelines for global stability in the next century. Mr. Mori will have to do much more homework so that he, drawing on his preliminary exchanges with G8 leaders, can set the stage for a successful summit that meets the world’s expectations.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.