Pomp and happenstance mark Japan's G-7 summit Glitter, election eclipse economic issues

July 05, 1993|By John E. Woodruff | John E. Woodruff,Tokyo Bureau

TOKYO -- Late in the 1800s, as Japan emerged from centuries of self-imposed isolation, the Meiji Era's finest craftsmen paid homage to France's pride, the Versailles Palace, by replicating parts of it in the center of Tokyo.

For three days beginning Wednesday, in that same gilded 19th-century monument to Japan's opening to the outside world, the Akasaka Palace, Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa will preside at one of the great annual spectacles of the late 20th century -- a summit of leaders of the Group of Seven industrial powers.

Never mind that the one thing missing will be the one thing the annual G-7 spectacle claims to be about, a diplomatic achievement in proportion to the cost and grandeur of the gathering.

Never mind because, despite perennial talk of a need to tone it down, the spectacle itself will be as immense as always: Tens of thousands of police officers; thousands of staff members to support the seven leaders; traffic choked off as motorcades crisscross the capital; entire wings of giant hotels commandeered for exclusive use by delegations.

In fact, for its last day and a half, it will be in at least one sense even bigger than usual, the G-7 Plus One.

Partway into the second day, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin will arrive.

He already knows he will take home pledges, confirmed months ago, of billions of dollars to help his country's transition to capitalism. But even those pledges are being scaled back as G-7 leaders begin to question Russia's ability to make productive use of so much money.

The pageant is so big it makes even the press, by force of sheer numbers, become part of the story it is covering. By week's end more than 10,000 were accredited: reporters, TV camera and sound hands, photographers, pundits and editors, more than 8,000 of them Japanese.

To Japan, the pageantry itself is not unimportant.

More than a century after opening to the outside world, Japanese officials and reporters still put a lot of their time into measuring what the outside world thinks of them.

The chance to be host to the likes of President Clinton, France's President Francois Mitterrand and the heads of the rest of the world's biggest economic powers is something Tokyo savors far more than the other capitals.

Years in the making

Officials here have been preparing for this summit not for months but for years.

"We are still in many ways the outsiders at these events after all these years, and each time we are the host, it is a chance to move a bit closer to the inside," a junior Foreign Ministry protocol officer said. "Of course it would be nice to have some historic decision that would be known as 'The Tokyo Plan' or something. But for us, the gathering itself, the fact that the leaders of the world's seven most powerful countries are gathered in our capital, is important, with or without some historic decision."

As the grandly European-styled choice of site suggests, Japanese officials have planned the three days as an affirmation of how far Japan has come in a bit more than a century -- from medieval samurai hermit kingdom to the world's No. 2 economy and a power ready to claim a role in leading the globe.

In concrete terms, what Japan wants most from this summit, support for its claim to a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, is already partly in hand.

The American mission to the United Nations said last week that )) Washington backs the addition of Japan and Germany, but without the veto power held by the original five permanent members: Britain, France, Russia, China and the United States.

Tokyo wants the veto, too, but the pacifist clause of its constitution forbids it to join in U.N. military operations, which the United States counts as a precondition for any power to kill a proposal with a single vote.

With an election campaign loudly in progress here even as the powers gather, Mr. Miyazawa is unlikely to say anything that might raise that always-volatile military issue.

Leader's dream deflated

For Mr. Miyazawa, a rare Japanese leader who can speak comfortably with his Canadian, British and American counterparts in their own language, this summit was supposed to have a personal meaning.

The three days were to be the capstone of half a century in public life as one of his country's most brilliant international figures.

But a century after the Meiji Era opening, there is still something medieval about Japan's politics. The Liberal Democratic Party, which has governed without interruption for 38 years, organizes itself around personal factions closely patterned after the relationships between samurai and their lords.

It is a system that has always demanded more money, no matter how much its practitioners already have.

Nearly four uninterrupted decades in power, and uncounted hundreds of millions of unaccounted-for dollars, made the barons of this system arrogant, corrupt and rich.

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