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Analytical Studies

Preliminary Assessment of the role of Civil Society at the Kyushu-Okinawa Summit

Peter I. Hajnal
July 23, 2000, 17:15
Research Associate, Centre for International Studies
University of Toronto

In the lead-up to the Okinawa Summit the Japanese government made clear its determination, as G8 Chair for 2000, to reach out beyond G8 countries to developing and other countries, intergovernmental organizations, the private sector and civil society. This attitude of openness was in evidence at Okinawa by (1) the establishment of an NGO centre for the duration of the summit; (2) the dialogue between the Japanese government and civil-society leaders on the opening day of the Summit; and (3) a number of references in the Okinawa G8 Communique to civil-society participation.

The NGO Centre, in what must be seen as an advance over previous G7/G8 practice, allowed civil-society proximity, though not necessarily adequate access, to the site of G8 meetings and the Summit Media Centre. Access was predominantly one way: government and media representatives were free to visit the NGO Centre but only those NGO representatives who were also accredited as journalists covering the Summit were allowed to enter the Media Centre and thus have access to official briefings and to media personnel.

Prime Minister Mori's meeting with NGO representatives on July 21st was presented by the Japanese government as a new initiative. In fact, it was at the 1998 Birmingham Summit that civil society had its first official dialogue with the G7/G8 as represented by British Prime Minister Tony Blair. This was arguably the most successful of the three successive such dialogues (1999 Cologne and 2000 Okinawa being the other two). Nonetheless, the Okinawa encounter has confirmed the consultation process as an established method of dialogue. There are indications that this will be carried on by future summit host countries.

The Okinawa G8 communiqué refers to civil society in its preamble as well as under the first two of its three main headings–greater prosperity, greater peace of mind, and greater stability–thereby acknowledging the essential role of NGOs in various areas of world concern. The communiqué's third section, on greater stability, does not mention civil society specifically, but the G8 foreign ministers, at their meeting held in Miyazaki prior to the Okinawa Summit, called on NGOs, along with other actors, to commit themselves to conflict prevention, and emphasized the important role of NGOs and broader civil society in preventing the accumulation of small arms, in mitigating tensions, in helping the post-conflict transition from humanitarian emergency assistance to development, and in raising awareness of the problem of children in armed conflicts. Notably, the G8 leaders called for partnership with civil society in the fight against infectious diseases--and the Japanese government undertook to lead this effort by committing $3 billion over the next 5 years -- as well as countering international crime, improving food safety, and promoting development.

On debt relief, environmental protection and other substantive issues the NGO community's hopes were disappointed at Okinawa; progress was meagre. Thus, while on specific issues civil-society expectations were insufficiently met, the fact that G8 partnership with civil society is now a recognized, established process is an important achievement of the Okinawa summit which gave impetus and endorsement to this important evolution in global governance.

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