LONDON — The Japanese government spent huge amounts of money in an attempt to ensure that the Okinawa summit and related events in Fukuoka and Miyazaki was a success, but was the money well spent and did the summit increase Japan’s prestige in the world? The answer to both questions that I as a generally sympathetic foreign observer have to give must be “no.”
Some foreign observers thought that the Japanese government’s expenditure was counterproductive. Too much was too obviously spent on show rather than substance. Some more puritanically minded world leaders would have preferred the money to have been expended on reducing the debt of the world’s poorest nations. Even the most friendly observers seem to have thought that the expenditure was at best unnecessary.
The general assumption abroad was that the main reason why the Japanese government decided to spend so much money on the Okinawan summit was to appease anti-Japanese sentiment in Okinawa, i.e., for internal political reasons, not international ones. If this was the case, it is at least debatable whether it was successful. Okinawan voters are not fools, and I suspect they saw through this ploy. Many Japanese must also have had doubts about the way some of their money was spent, e.g., in propping up a potentially bankrupt resort in Miyazaki.
It is far from clear that the heads of government and their entourages really enjoyed Japan’s lavish entertainment. Okinawa does not have the best of climates at this time of year and the traveling even in special aircraft (at vast public expense) must have been exhausting.
The most important point is, of course, whether the meetings and discussions were really productive. I do not read a vast selection of newspapers, but of those that I do read it is noteworthy that the only paper that I saw and which carried the full text of the communique was the Nihon Keizai Shimbun.
In Britain, The Times, in its populist mode under Rupert Murdoch’s tutelage, preferred gossipy pieces about the summit. The Financial Times had more serious coverage, but did not bother with the text of the communique, perhaps because it was so full of pious platitudes. This was perhaps a pity, but the communique which was the usual compromise of drafts produced by officials was hardly newsworthy in itself.
The heads of governments’ intentions about the diffusion of information technology, prevention and cure of disease and the development of education in developing countries were no doubt worthy, but there is inevitably a good deal of cynicism about the pledges given about the dates when certain improvements will be achieved. A look at the rate of fulfillment of earlier pledges suggests that such pledges are hardly worth the time taken to read them. Or is this to be the summit that was different? Will the Japanese government, which organized this expensive jamboree, take it upon itself to monitor the fulfillment of these pledges and publicize and criticize backsliding by Japan and other members of the G8? Sadly I doubt it.
Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori is hardly likely to be in power long enough to see through such an undertaking and it is hard to see any other potential Japanese leader with the courage and determination to pursue this idea. So was the summit just another international junket that in practical terms was a total waste of time?
I am tempted to answer “yes,” but perhaps we can see some real benefits. The first is the opportunity that the summit provided for the G8 leaders to talk together and get to know one another better. While one or two Western leaders, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, had developed some rapport with Russian President Vladimir Putin, other had not, and even those that already knew him may have welcomed the chance to see him operating in an international meeting.
Second, it was good that Western leaders should see for themselves what is happening in East Asia, even if they inevitably saw development through rose-tinted spectacles. Their advisers would have had to brief them about such topics as relations in the Korean Peninsula and the implications of future Chinese membership of the World Trade Organization.
Third, it is to be hoped that the discussions on such topics as a new round of trade talks in the WTO had some real substance. It was helpful that the troublesome questions of access charges to the NTT network was solved just in time before the meeting. But this sort of brinkmanship should never have been necessary. Mori and the LDP seem unable to understand that this kind of protectionism is out of date and damages Japan’s national interest. It is to be hoped that U.S. President Bill Clinton and others spoke firmly to Mori on the need for Japan to take the lead in liberalizing world trade, but I doubt if they spoke firmly and clearly enough or if they did Mori and his LDP backwoodsmen took in the message.
The Okinawan summit would have been beneficial if it helped Japanese politicians and Japanese public opinion to see world affairs from a more international perspective. Perhaps it did, but alas parochialism is deeply embedded in the Japanese psyche (to say nothing of the psyche of the British and other nationals!).
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