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Four years ago, in July 1996, I suggested in an opinion piece for the Sankei Shimbun that the Group of Eight summit in 2000 be held in Okinawa.

Although I was the special adviser on Okinawa affairs in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, I had opportunities to talk to the late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi before his death regarding Okinawa issues. But his an- nouncement in April 1999 that the 2000 summit would be held in Okinawa came as a complete surprise to me.

The boldness of Obuchi’s decision should not be overlooked. The past two G7 or G8 summits in Japan were held in Tokyo. He went against the wishes of bureaucrats — who were not pleased at the thought of working in a faraway place — and the recommendations of his security officials, who felt they lacked the resources to protect an island conference site.

To a certain extent, the late prime minister’s thinking was led by the special place Okinawa held in his heart. His first Cabinet-level post was that of director general of the Okinawa Development Agency. He was humble by nature and showed great deference to those he met, from the governor down to business leaders and mayors of small towns. Keizo Obuchi, whose father died a premature death, explained that he felt grateful for the Okinawan elders having taken him under their wings.

I have a pleasant memory in support for an Okinawa 2000 summit. Of all the G7 summits that I knew during my years at the Foreign Ministry, the second, the 1976 meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico, was the one that stuck in my mind as the most pleasant and forward-looking.

Trite as it may sound, the atmosphere of a meeting matters. In San Juan, the leaders met in a bright hall lit by sunlight bouncing off a white sand beach and aquamarine ocean. Surrounded by beauty, the leaders and their staff were liberated from the gloom and detail of the everyday and were able to come to substantial, even visionary, agreement.

This year’s summit should replicate the bright and forward-looking atmosphere of 1976. Okinawa offers a climate and environment closest to that of Puerto Rico.

The selection of Okinawa for the heads of state meeting will provide participating leaders with the most beautiful environment in Japan, an environment needed to bring an air of optimism, amid sea and sun.

For Okinawans, having the leaders of the major industrialized nations come to their island provides an immense psychological boost.

Like last year’s host, Cologne, Germany, the name Okinawa resonates with the echoes of World War II. Both were the sites of great tragedy, of massive loss of life and destruction of culture. Cologne was the first city to experience aerial saturation bombing and remained a strategic target throughout much of war. Okinawa was the site of the only land combat of World War II on Japanese territory. The April 1 to June 23, 1945, Battle of Okinawa killed two-thirds of the civilian population at that time.

The difference between this year’s summit locale and last year’s is that in the decades since its destruction, Cologne has been allowed to revert to what it once was: a major German city on the Rhine. Its military significance, once great, has been largely consigned to the history books. Okinawa, however, has not been allowed to forget or to move on. In Okinawa, the books on the postwar era have not been closed.

Okinawa is a land apart. Until 1879 it was an autonomous kingdom. It had its own language and distinctive culture that borrowed from both Japan and China. After a 1596 invasion by the Satsuma clan, however, the day-to-day administration of the islands had been Japanese. This Japanese administration prevailed in the late 19th-century struggle for control over the islands, finally incorporating them into the nascent Meiji Japanese state.

The special history of Okinawa re-emerged following Japan’s defeat in World War II. The Allied Occupation of Japan ended in 1952 after the San Francisco Peace Treaty. It was not until 20 years later, however, that Okinawa was returned to Japanese sovereignty. From 1945 to 1972 it served as one of the most important supply bases for U.S. military activities in East Asia including Vietnam.

In some ways, the Occupation sequela still continues in Okinawa. Okinawa hosts about 75 percent of the land allocated by Tokyo for U.S. military facilities in Japan, even though the prefecture represents less than 1 percent of Japan’s total land area. More than 15 percent of the main island of Okinawa is taken up by U.S. military installations.

Okinawans feel thrice betrayed. First, by the Imperial Japanese High Command, which in the Battle of Okinawa herded the island’s civilian population together with its military defenders, setting up both to be sacrificed in a horrible, slow war of attrition geared to slowing the U.S. advance toward the main islands.

Second, betrayed by the U.S. Occupation forces that ruled the islands with impunity, bulldozing flat entire villages and appropriating land for bases with little or no compensation. The attitude toward Okinawan life during the Occupation was often callous to an extreme, little consideration given to the needs of civilian life, with pittances doled out to compensate numerous victims of accidents and incidents by U.S. personnel.

Third, betrayed by the Tokyo government. Okinawans had hoped that the return to Japanese sovereignty would relieve them of the burden of being a U.S. military fortress in the Pacific. To the Okinawans’ disappointment, however, after the 1972 reversion, Tokyo did not try hard to reduce the excessive burden on the shoulders of Okinawa. It was not an intentional policy to concentrate U.S. military facilities in Okinawa. It was just that Tokyo’s imperative was the reduction and closure of U.S. military facilities in the heavily populated Kanto plain. Between 1972 and 1996, U.S. military facilities on the main islands were reduced by 65 percent. On Okinawa, however, they were reduced only by 15 percent and no Okinawa-based U.S. forces were transferred to the main islands.

Okinawa’s frustrations for having to bear a great share of Japan’s security obligations is especially poignant, given that Okinawa in 1960 was a U.S.-administered territory, and thus in a legal sense not a part of the Japan that signed the security treaty with the United States that year.

Keizo Obuchi was aware of Okinawa’s sad history of exploitation and was determined to set the prefecture on a new, more positive path. Having Okinawa host a G8 summit would not only focus the world’s attention on the islands, but conversely allow Okinawans to feel themselves an important part of the world.

Many hoped that a G8 summit in Okinawa would provide the possibility of direct personal contact between the Okinawans and a U.S. president.

Despite the importance of the Okinawa military installations to East Asian regional security and the U.S. military’s powerful effects on the daily lives of Okinawa citizens, no American president has ever visited the island.

If U.S. President Bill Clinton were to stay an extra day in Okinawa — an extra day for direct communications with the people — the favorable impact would be overwhelming: It would commence a new era between the U.S. and Okinawa.

But, unfortunately, a precious opportunity has been lost.

Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who took over following Obuchi’s fatal stroke in April, has outlined three new topics for discussion at this summit: the IT (information-technology) revolution, infectious diseases and food safety.

Each reflects facets of two broader themes of paramount importance to all: our greater inter-connectedness, and our increasing dependence on science and technology.

The IT revolution is giving us a dramatic increase in distance communications, worldwide markets for goods, better organized factories and workplaces, and easier access to news and knowledge. It is also giving others greater access to our private behavior, and teenage vandals the ability to bring down industries across the globe with a single home computer and a telephone connection. It also threatens to create stunning differences in wealth and economic growth between the IT haves and the IT have-nots.

Developing a means of regulating, monitoring and sharing IT are of vital importance to the world’s economic health and security. While the U.S. has been the undisputed leader in the generation of the hardware and software of IT, it is the European countries that have been in the forefront of seeking ways to protect the individual from IT misuse. Japan is playing catchup on both fronts. The need for coordination of policies among G8 countries is more acutely felt than ever.

As for the subject of infectious diseases, the summit comes only a few weeks after the announcement of one of the outstanding scientific achievements of our times, the decoding of the human genome. We will soon become vastly more knowledgeable about the causes of disease and be able to make significant improvements in the quality of many lives.

At the same time, unless the medical establishments, pharmaceutical industries and governments of the wealthier nations combine forces, many more lives will be lost to epidemics than will be saved by the new technology, epidemics whose virulence and dispersal are the result primarily of our own inaction.

Half of all deaths in the developing world come from infectious disease. Worse still, with every passing day we have fewer tools with which to fight many of the greatest killers. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, most frighteningly tuberculosis, have become major killers again; malaria, with many strains now resistant to existing drugs, kills 2 million people annually in the tropical regions.

It will be up to the U.S. to show leadership here. Despite being the world’s richest nation with the world’s finest research institutions, U.S. per capita contributions toward the world fight against infectious disease are tiny in comparison to the contributions of other members of the G7 or the OECD. The U.S. will have to overcome its allergy to foreign aid and lead the richest economies in a significant long-term program, rebuilding the underdeveloped world’s shattered public-health systems and reforming the world’s health practices.

The final subject, food safety, sits at the intersection of four major international trends: an increasing demand for food, the expanding role of agribusiness in food supply, increased agricultural trade and the ability to alter the genetic characteristics of organisms. Humankind is trying to provide a richer diet for more people, on a shrinking land base. Trade helps move food from where it is in surplus to where it is lacking. However, breakdowns in national food safety programs — the “mad cow disease” outbreak in Britain, E. coli outbreaks in the U.S. and Canada, and most recently, contaminated milk in Japan — have made the public skeptical about government and industry guarantees of a globalized food market.

The recent efforts of scientists to boost the nutritional or pest-fighting capabilities of food plants through genetic manipulation offer a promise of greater yields. However, they have divided European nations against the U.S. in regards to the dangers these organisms pose to the biosphere, with Japan left in an uncomfortable middle position.

In addition to these topics, summit participants will, as usual, discuss the events of the day, especially regional security issues. The leaders are certain to exchange views on the significance of the recent stunning North-South summit in Pyongyang. They are also likely to discuss the increasing global role of China, which has shown an apparent skepticism of the validity of G8 summit. Though good relations between the attendees are a priority, some pointed questions may be put to Russian President Vladimir Putin about the outlook for democracy and freedom in his country. Indonesia, the Mexican elections, the problems of the Andean nations, Central Africa and the growing world trade of smuggling illegal immigrants may also make their way into the discussions.

In all, the summit will have to reaffirm the tenuous balance between two conflicting ideas: the importance of the U.S. leading other countries in the creation and maintenance of international institutions, and necessity that the U.S. listen to its partners and at times bend to their needs.

If the Okinawa summit can reaffirm both these principles, it will be judged a success. If it succeeds in presenting to the world long-term milestones at the threshold of the 21st century, it will be a triumph. Further, if in some way it contributes to the long-term welfare of the Okinawans, it will be an added bonus for Prime Minister Mori.

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