Published on openDemocracy, by Noriko Hama, July 11, 2008.
Japan’s prime minister Yasuo Fukuda had a golden chance to make the G8 summiteers face the painful realities of globalisation. Noriko Hama laments a missed opportunity.
… The absent excuse: In fact, the 2008 gathering was in principle a golden opportunity to give the G8 a new lease of life – precisely because the economic situation the world faces is such a critically difficult one. To be sure, the environment of half a century away is important. It makes perfect sense to talk about it before it is too late. That said, there were clearly more pressing economic issues that demanded immediate attention: oil prices, food insecurity, the financial markets and poverty, to mention only a few. True, these topics were on the agenda in some form. But they were given only the most cursory of attention. It was almost as though the G8 nations deliberately turned their backs on these problems from awareness of their impotence in tackling them without the involvement of those others who weren’t there …
… The butler didn’t do it: As for the host himself, the Japanese have always had the perfect name for him. That name is banto – which would translate as something between a butler and a chief clerk. Ever loyal, ever self-effacing, supremely professional and one who always makes the seemingly impossible possible, in a quiet, unobtrusive but determined way. Those qualities of his were very much to the fore while Yasuo Fukuda was serving as chief cabinet secretary under prime minister Junichiro Koizumi.
That kind of banto-diplomacy would serve the world well at this moment when the global jungle is driving everyone towards aggressive and exclusionist survival tactics. Alas, he seems to have lost his touch since he assumed the premiership in September 2007 after the resignation of Shinzo Abe (Koizumi’s own ineffectual successor). Rather than the environmental visionary that he seems to have aspired to be, he ought to have returned to his banto roots in preparing for the Toyako summit. A bit of well-thought-out cajoling and scolding would have served the summiteers well in recalling what summit meetings were – and should again be – all about. Recycling the summit back to life would have been an ideal job for Fukuda. A thousand pities for the world that he did not rise to the occasion. (full text).