G8 summit meets amid protests in Japan

July 7, 2008

Heads of State from the United States, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, the UK and Russia are holding their Group of Eight annual summit at a remote luxury resort on Japan’s northernmost island. Air force jets buzz overhead, vessels patrol the seas and more than 20,000 police officers prowl the premises. G8 leaders will spend the next two days negotiating and setting priorities on international markets, security and energy matters. International activists have also assembled in Japan to monitor and pressure G8 participants. The G8 has long come under fire from those who say that the eight “most industrialized” nations have no right to create policies that manage the affairs of other countries. From Toyako, Japan, Puck Lo files this report.

Script

Food shortage riots, global warming, controversy around biofuels, the ongoing HIV/AIDS pandemic, and potential global financial crisis set the stage for this year’s G8 talks.

Host of the summit, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, vows to champion aid packages to Africa, inspire the US and other major polluters to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2013 and spearhead new green technologies.

But despite promises of largesse, critics are skeptical that the three-day retreat will produce much more than rhetoric.

Policy analysts like Focus on the Global South’s Walden Bello say that the G8 summits continue to lose legitimacy as they fail to create solutions.

THEY KEEP ON MEETING BECAUSE OF INERTIA – AND AT THE SAME TIME REALIZING THAT THE MORE THEY MEET WITH ALL THIS POMP AND MEANINGLESS DECLARATIONS, THE MORE THEY DELEGITIMIZE THEMSELVES.

Bobby John of Global Health Advocates in India says the international community is still waiting for the G8 to make good on its word from previous years.

THEY MADE COMMITMENTS AT GLEN EAGLES, THEY MADE COMMITMENTS LAST YEAR ON HEALTH. THOSE COMMITMENTS NEED TO BE REITERATED AND WE NEED TO SEE THE FIRST BITS OF MONEY BEGIN FLOWING IN.

G8 ambassadors have widely broadcasted their intent to double their aid package to Africa, and leaders of seven African nations were invited to the talks today. But according to Oxfam, the G8 has only forked out 14 percent of the pledge they made three years ago.

G8 leaders tout “aid” and “development” for Africa, but activists like Zimbabwe resident, Gustave Assah, say that receiving countries need to be in control of the resources.

WE ARE NOT HERE TO BE TREATED AS CHARITY. BUT WE ARE HERE TO DEMAND G8 TO GIVE US THE POSSIBILITY TO HAVE OWNERSHIP FOR DEVELOPMENT. MONEY IS SOMETHING, BUT BETTER TO GIVE OWNERSHIP TO AFRICA. WE NEED TO HAVE SOME POWER.

To Henry Saragih, an Indonesian farmer with Via Campesina, food security begins with farmers owning their land.

IT MEANS – THE FOOD SOVEREIGNTY MUST DISTRIBUTE LAND TO THE TILLER, TO THE PEOPLE WORKING IN THE FARM.

G8 solutions for the world food shortage include having “emergency” food reserves – possibly managed by the World Bank – lifting restrictions on food exports, and increasing food production.

John Samuel from ActionAid in Thailand says that the food crisis isn’t a problem of scarcity, it’s a problem of speculation in financial markets where food is treated as a commodity.

HOW IS IT THAT THESE MULTINATIONAL CORPORATIONS INCLUDING MONSANTO IS REAPING PROFIT WHERE POOR PEOPLE HAVE TO SEEK MONEY TO BUY FOOD AND THEY DON’T HAVE FOOD. AND ONE OUT OF FOUR PEOPLE ON THIS PLANET IS IN DANGER OF LOSING A MEAL OR AT THE VERGE OF GOING HUNGRY.

G8 countries are subsidizing biofuel production as a solution to the energy crisis. According to Action Aid, the corn needed to fill up a car tank with ethanol could feed a hungry person for a year.

Nur Amalia, from Indonesia, says there are no environmental solutions that don’t also tackle poverty. G8 governments should support climate justice by canceling the Third World debt to international lending institutions like the World Bank, she says. Currently, Indonesia relies on aid from industrialized G8 countries in part because 40 percent of the gross national product goes to debt payments.

SO WE ARE ONLY LEFT 60 PERCENT FOR DEVELOPING OUR COUNTRIES. HOW CAN WE HANDLE THE IMPACT OF CLIMATE CHANGE IF WE ONLY HAVE LITTLE MONEY TO EXPAND FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF OUR COUNTRIES?

For all the talk about environmental solutions, partnerships with civil society, and generous aid packages, many activists gathered here in Hokkaido dismiss the G8 entirely. Walden Bello:

SO WHAT YOU HAVE NOW IN JAPAN IS A REFORMIST – A NEW G8 REFORMIST DISCOURSE THAT’S BADLY TATTERED, IN THE MIDST OF MASSIVE, ONGOING, CONCURRENT CRISES…WITH A DISCREDITED LEADERSHIP. AND WE CAN TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS OPPORTUNITY TO REALLY KILL THIS INSTITUTION.

The summit wraps up this Wednesday. From Sapporo, Japan, this is Puck Lo.