G-8 expansion worries Tokyo
BY SUSUMU MAEJIMA, STAFF WRITER
This is the first in a series on the G-8 summit in Hokkaido that starts Monday.
If French President Nicolas Sarkozy puts Japanese government officials on edge during next week's Group of Eight summit, it will probably have little to do with his wife, singer and former model Carla Bruni, grabbing the media spotlight.
A more likely cause of concern for the host nation at Lake Toyako, Hokkaido, is Sarkozy's proposal to include China, India and other emerging economies in the G-8 framework.
As Japan is the only G-8 member from Asia, officials apparently fear that such a development would dilute Tokyo's influence within the exclusive club.
"At the G-8 summit, we must produce concrete results, rather than merely discuss issues," Sarkozy told Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda in Rome on June 3. "We have to increase the number of member countries if we are to respond to changes going on around the world."
Fukuda made it clear he did not agree and that Japan would support the current setup.
"The summit offers a valuable and meaningful opportunity for a limited number of leaders who assume great responsibilities for international society to frankly exchange opinions," he was quoted as saying.
"It is important to hold dialogue with emerging economies in dealing with global challenges. We will have an 'outreach' meeting with these countries at Lake Toyako."
Sarkozy, who took office in May 2007, has advocated a "G-13" framework, which would include China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa.
His initiative comes at a time when G-8 countries are struggling to show meaningful leadership on climate change and soaring energy and food prices.
International efforts to curb global warming will not pay off without the involvement of China, India and other emerging economies, where strong demand has helped send worldwide energy and food prices skyrocketing.
In a written interview with The Asahi Shimbun, Sarkozy's foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, said, "We have to share responsibilities with emerging economies, rather than simply holding dialogue with them."
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has also backed a G-8 expansion.
In a speech in New Delhi in January, he said that the G-8, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund should be restructured to reflect the growing influence of India and other Asian countries.
Japan is reluctant to expand the G-8, a move that could undermine its key diplomatic position as the only Asian member.
It is also seeking a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, where four of the five positions are held by fellow G-8 members.
"The (summit process) started as a gathering of mature, advanced democracies and has maintained its fundamental principles," Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura told a news conference last week.
"The member countries will decide, by consensus, which countries are qualified to join the grouping, after taking its origin and background into account."
A senior Foreign Ministry official in charge of preparations for the summit said he did not expect G-8 leaders to discuss expansion at Lake Toyako.
"There will be some leaders who say whatever they want at news conferences after the summit is closed," the official said, when asked about the possibility of Sarkozy's proposal being put on the table. "But I'm afraid that leaders will not have time to discuss the issue during the summit because they have a long list of pressing issues before them."
The summit process was launched in 1975, when leaders from Japan, the United States, Britain, France, West Germany and Italy gathered at the Chateau de Rambouillet in suburban Paris to discuss the global economy, following the 1973 oil crisis.
Canada joined the following year, and Russia was officially admitted from the 1997 summit in Denver because Western countries wanted to back its transition to democracy and a market economy.
In recent years, G-8 countries have tried to embrace the rise of emerging economies by inviting several countries for informal discussions on the sidelines of their annual summits.
The five countries on Sarkozy's list have regularly participated in these "outreach" meetings since the 2005 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland.
But guest countries are not involved in months-long preparations by senior government officials, and their views are not included, at least directly, in the joint communique released after the summit.(IHT/Asahi: July 2,2008)