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Analytical Studies

First Thoughts on the Okinawa Summit, 21-23 July 2000

Nicholas Bayne
London School of Economics and Political Science


The Okinawa 2000 summit followed the format established at Birmingham in 1998. The finance and foreign ministers met in advance (at Fukuoka and Miyazaki in Western Japan) and only the heads of government came to Okinawa. The Japanese hosts chose a three-part agenda - prosperity, peace of mind and stability - and conducted the preparations with great thoroughness. The Japanese made two important modifications to the format:

  1. They made great efforts to involve other, non-G7 countries, both in pre-summit consultations and in meetings with the ministers and heads. Though the earlier proposal to involve Asian leaders failed, because of the resistance of China, Mori and five other leaders (not Clinton, Schroeder and Putin) met a group of heads of government from three African countries and Thailand in Tokyo on their way to Okinawa.

  2. They provided official facilities for NGOs, with an NGO centre, for the first time at a summit. (The NGO presence was, however, constrained by Okinawa's remoteness.)

These modifications increased the transparency of the summit process, though the change was more in the form than substance. The content of the meetings with the others - eg with NGO representatives - was limited.

The facilities provided were unusually lavish, apparently costing about $750 million. This figure includes substantial public works conducted under the summit label, as well as the extra costs of security, supplies and transport in a remote location. Even so, it attracted hostile comment from NGOs and media.

Pre-Summit Meetings

The finance ministers met as G7 ten days before the summit. They issued substantial reports on international financial architecture and on information technology and a short release on money laundering. Two more reports were held over to the summit.

The foreign ministers met as G8 a week before the summit. Their main declaration covered conflict prevention, terrorism, UN issues, crime, environment and 11 regional issues. They also issued a substantial report on the details of conflict prevention, including small arms trade and the illicit trade in diamonds.

The Participants

Most of the heads of government were summit veterans and knew each other well - including Prodi, attending as Commission President rather than Italian prime minister. Chirac and Blair were the most active; Chretien and Prodi (on trade and food safety) also took a full part. While the others were secure in office, Clinton was constrained because he had only a few months remaining. He was preoccupied by the Middle East talks, which he had to leave at a critical stage, and by the local hostility to the US bases in Okinawa.

Of the newcomers, Mori was able to present Japan's position well, but found his role in the chair more difficult. D'Amato spoke seldom, but always to the point - a good augury for Genoa in 2001, if he is still in office. Putin's performance is discussed below.

G7 Issues

The G7 leaders met openly for two hours on the first afternoon. They issued a statement which covered two reports from their finance ministers on 'Debt Relief and Poverty Reduction' and 'Actions Against Abuse of the Global Financial System', ie money-laundering, etc.

The discussion covered:

Debt Relief and Development

Debt relief for the poorest countries was the most serious subject for the G7 leaders. Blair led off, stressing the extent of public feeling on the topic. He had had 150,000 postcards and 100,000 e-mail messages on it during the last three months.

The problem for the G7 was that, despite some considerable efforts, their major initiative from Cologne in 1999 was falling behind schedule. Bilaterally the G7 had in fact gone beyond their Cologne commitments, since all had agreed to give 100% reduction of commercial debt, instead of the 90% reduction promised a year before. But the multilateral aspects were the source of obstacles. The requirement for beneficiary countries to conclude 'poverty reduction strategies' was slowing things down. There was doubt whether pledges made to compensate the World Bank would be met, especially by the US. Many eligible countries in Africa were being undermined by conflict, either internal or external, so that they could not meet the conditions required.

As a result, the Cologne target of getting three quarters of the 41 eligible countries to their 'decision point' by the end of 2000 would not be met. (This target had been added by the heads of government themselves.) Only nine countries had qualified so far, and eleven more should make it by the end of the year. The leaders were clearly frustrated, by this. But the G7 could not offer any radical measures to speed things up and made clear their anxiety about conflict in Africa. For this they were bitterly denounced by Jubilee 2000, who said they were "totally dismayed" by the G7 statement.

The G7 finance ministers' report also covers other aspects of development. While it claims to help developing countries "benefit from the forces of globalisation", in fact it offers little encouragement. It is full of exhortation and good intentions, but there are no clear commitments either on increased aid or improved trade access.

Blair and Chirac returned to this subject in the G8 meeting the next day, urging greater efforts to show that the summit leaders cared about the poorest countries. The G8 communiqué contains extended provisions on development, discussed below. But it could not offer more on debt relief. This is a setback, since the leaders have engaged their personal reputations in the debt relief measures, which are the summits' main contribution so far to helping the poorest countries.

G8 Political Issues ("Greater World Stability")

The working dinner on the first evening, as usual, focused on political issues. Korea, the Middle East peace process and former Yugoslavia were actually discussed by the leaders. They issued that night a statement on Korea, welcoming the reconciliation between North and South, and another on regional issues (South Asia, Middle East, Balkans, Africa, Cyprus). Other political issues feature in the G8 communiqué, notably conflict prevention (including agreement on a conference on the diamonds trade) and disarmament (including the goal of "an international financing plan for plutonium management"). There was apparently no discussion on China, which is not mentioned in the G8 documents except for its WTO accession.

This dinner was Putin's first G8 appearance. He was an active participant, leading on Korea and taking part on Yugoslavia too. He had travelled to Okinawa via Pyongyang and Beijing, which allowed him to make a unique contribution to the Korean discussions. This was a risky strategy for a newcomer, but Putin carried it off. From this and his subsequent performance he emerged as the star performer at Okinawa.

G8 Economic Issues

Morning Session: "Greater Prosperity"

The main G8 agenda was covered in two sessions on the second day, with no substantive exchanges over lunch. These provided the basis for the G8 communiqué, which sets out aspirations for the 21st century and a wide-ranging response to the demands of globalisation.

Information and Communications Technology (IT)

IT was the most substantial subject covered. Though the heads' discussion was fairly general, they issued an extensive document, the Okinawa Charter on Global Information Society. Work on this provided a major focus for the summit preparations, including a conference with leading private sector figures just before the summit. The charter offers a vision of "an information society that better enables people to fulfil their potential and realise their aspirations".

The document falls into three parts:

  1. "Digital Opportunities" focuses on economic activities and their regulation in developed countries. There is a reasonable balance between the "leading role" of the private sector and the responsibility of government "to create a predictable, transparent, and non-discriminatory policy and regulatory framework". A long set of principles begins with recognisable US objectives, eg on e-commerce in the WTO, but ends with more European concerns about consumer trust and privacy.

  2. "Digital Divide" deals with social policies in developed countries, including wider network access and education.

  3. "Global Participation" focuses on IT for developing countries. After welcoming contributions from other institutions and the private sector, it creates a "Digital Opportunity Taskforce" (the dot force), with a wide range of tasks, to report to the Genoa summit next year.

The first two parts of the charter represent a fair synthesis of much current discussion of the role of IT. But the charter will be judged on how it helps developing countries to benefit from IT, especially the poorest. Here there are many uncertainties. The composition and powers of the dot force are not defined. Though the charter recognises the "gaps in terms of basic economic and social infrastructures" in poor countries - ie no electricity, no telephones and low education - it does say much about how these gaps can be filled. The resources required and available are not identified, though Japan has pledged $15 billion over five years.

Development, including Infectious Diseases

There was wide-ranging discussion among the heads. Mori focused on the fight against disease, pledging $3 billion over three years in aid, plus a fund for NGOs. Clinton spoke of US action to subsidise the cost of drugs for poor countries. Chirac, Blair, Prodi and others covered increased aid volumes, better trade access and education, especially for women.

The long development section of the communiqué is an advance on the G7 documents noted above. It recognises in places the scale of the problems - "still 1.2 billion people living on less than one dollar a day" - and the inadequacy of earlier G7/G8 measures. But it still falls short of a satisfactory response. The key points are:

Trade and the WTO

There were divided views among the leaders on whether the G8 should call for a new trade round by the end of the year. But Mori, in summing up the discussion, said that all could agree the round should start "by the end of the year, if possible".

The communiqué duly says the G8 will "try together with other WTO members to launch such a round during the course of this year". The round should have "an ambitious, balanced and inclusive agenda", including market access, WTO rules, support for developing countries and making trade compatible with social and environmental policies. While this looks like a slight move towards the EU/Japanese position, it not clear that the G8 have resolved their internal differences or worked out how they can persuade developing countries to agree to the non-trade items.

The incentives offered to the poorest countries are disappointing. The G8 admit their earlier offer on market access and capacity building was not good enough: "We recognise the need to go further with greater urgency in this area - and we will do so." But a long passage on capacity-building building contains only rhetorical commitments, while nothing more is said in the communiqué about better market access at all. The EU made a separate commitment to give duty- and quota-free access to 'almost all' of the products of least-developed countries by 2005, but still sounds slow and limited.

Russian Economy

Putin explained his economic reform programme, hoping it would produce results and gain support. From G7 briefings the night before it was clear that if Putin asked for debt reduction, he would not get it. The Russian economy was thought strong enough to pay its debts in full, though rescheduling could be offered in the Paris Club if Russia agreed an IMF programme. Although Russian Prime Minister Kasyanov had argued that the G8 should consider debt reduction in the Financial Times in 20 July, Putin wisely did not raise debt at all. There is nothing on Russia's economy in the summit documents.

After breakfasting with Putin, Schroeder floated the idea that the G7 need no longer meet without the Russians present. This was not agreed, however, and Clinton said in public that the G7 was still needed. Putin bid to host the summit of 2003 in Russia; this bid was left on the table.

Afternoon Session: "Deeper Peace of Mind"

Of the subjects in this group, the leaders focused on crime, food safety (and the human genome) and the environment. Ageing, earlier featured by the Japanese hosts, was not discussed. The exchanges were lively but fairly inconclusive.


The discussion on crime and drug-smuggling concentrated on various international events, such as the UN Convention on Organised Crime and another conference on high-tech crime, to be hosted by Japan. These points are reflected in the communiqué.

Food Safety and the Human Genome

There was the usual division between those who would rely on scientific evidence (Clinton, Chretien and Blair) and those advocating the precautionary principle (the other Europeans). The matter was not resolved and the communiqué contains language giving comfort to both camps. The proposal to create "an independent international panel" was only noted, not adopted, because of differing views about its composition.


The main topics discussed among the heads were bringing into force the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and forest management, including illegal logging. These feature in the communiqué, though without much advance on known positions. The Japanese regretted that Canadian resistance held back progress on illegal logging. On two more topics the leaders called for action before the Genoa summit in 2001. One was for a task force on encouraging the use of renewable energy in developing countries - a British proposal. This could be helpful in providing the power to get very poor countries online, though the communiqué does not make this link. The other was for environmental guidelines on export credit, promoted by the Americans.


This was an ambitious and hard-working set of meetings - taking the summit and ministerial meetings together. They produced a large number of commitments, but many of these were high on rhetoric and low on precise measures and identifiable resources. So the initial impression is on balance disappointing, despite all the preparatory work. But successful implementation of the commitments on IT, infectious diseases and the new trade round could correct this view.

On the format, the Japanese stuck to the letter of the Birmingham procedure. But there are clear signs that both summit agenda and documentation are getting overloaded again. Blair had chosen three single items for Birmingham (jobs, crime and finance), but for Okinawa the Japanese produced three multi-subject themes. The Okinawa communiqué, at 16 pages, is over 70% longer than Cologne's. (By contrast, the last summit held in Japan - Tokyo III 1993 - was content with an economic declaration of only six pages, though that summit was crucial in bringing the Uruguay Round to a conclusion.) If the summits revert to open-ended agendas and long documents going far beyond what the leaders actually discussed, they will forfeit the benefits of the reforms introduced at Birmingham.

On the substance, the political side of the proceedings went well. The succession from Yeltsin to Putin went smoothly. Putin on his first appearance proved an effective summit operator, putting across his points effectively but knowing when not to push his luck. There was a timely consensus on Korea and some innovative work on conflict prevention, though this will need to be followed up, especially at the UN. There was a sense of purpose over the financing of plutonium management lacking from the issues concerned with developing countries. But political issues were not central to this summit.

There was general satisfaction with the performance of the G7's own economies, with even Japan recovering. Domestic worries about globalisation, eg over jobs, no longer needed attention. There were few contentious issues between the G8 themselves that had to be resolved at Okinawa. On IT the divergent approaches of Americans and Europeans were skilfully reconciled. The report in financial architecture was largely work in progress; the report on money-laundering was based on work done elsewhere. There were differences on food safety and the environment, but in the absence of operational pressures the G8 could safely agree to differ.

So the main focus of Okinawa was always likely to be on economic subjects of concern to developing countries. Recent summits, since Lyon (1996), had shown increasing concern that the poorest countries were being left behind by globalisation. But they had found it hard - except on debt relief - to match their good intentions with effective measures. NGOs were becoming more vocal in their claims that poor countries were being neglected. The failed WTO meeting at Seattle showed the extent of the dissatisfaction of the developing countries, as well as the ability of NGOs to mobilise.

The Okinawa summit was an opportunity for the G8 to regain the initiative and to show themselves responsive to the needs and concerns of developing countries, especially the poorest. The topics chosen - especially debt relief, infectious diseases and IT - were, in principle, very suitable for this purpose. But the treatment of them, though often full of detail, was not very satisfactory.

In traditional development subjects - trade, aid and debt - Okinawa was a disappointment. In particular:

In the two innovative subjects at Okinawa - IT and infectious diseases - the programme laid out by the G8 could be enormously beneficial, if properly implemented. But this will depend on the G8 recognising the scale of the measures needed to help the poorest countries and making precise commitments of the necessary funds - this was not evident at Okinawa. The private sector must be involved as much as possible, but this cannot substitute for government action. So the results of Okinawa can only be judged in the light of the achievements of the dot force and the strategy conference on infectious diseases planned for the outcome.

Finally, the Okinawa summit shows that the G8 must improve their communications with developing countries, with NGOs and with public opinion generally. Globalisation means there are far more active players in the system, who have to be convinced - they will not follow blindly the G8's lead. The G8 communiqué says: "We must engage in a new partnership with non-G8 countries, particularly developing countries, international organisations and civil society." This is the first time the summit has attempted such a partnership and its nature is not otherwise defined. Though it is necessary, it will not be easy to achieve in a way that preserves the direct, informal nature of the summit circle. It could be a major task for the Italians before Genoa, building on the greater transparency created for Okinawa. But its success will depend on the G8 having a convincing message to put across to its 'new partners', by whatever methods are chosen to convey it.

27 July 2000

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