The G8 In My Neighborhood


Police Presence
Yesterday and today I noticed that there were many policemen around my neighborhood. There was a cop on every corner. They all paced the sidewalks clutching their fully extended batons. On several side streets were parked the big blue buses and vans that the police use to round up rioters or protesters. And patrolling the streets were many patrol cars.

I only see this kind of police presence when the dreaded black vans of right-wing extremists blare their jingoistic drivel and patriotic songs. But I didn’t hear any of the usual signs. And usually they harass busy stations and menace embassies, not residential areas.

A Meeting of Ministers
After a little investigation I found out that the G8 Justice and Home Affairs Ministerial Meeting was being held at the Westin Hotel, which is a few minutes walk from my apartment. So I strolled over to the Ebisu Garden Place, where the Westin is, and found a whole street of the blue buses and vans, and a lot of police officers roaming around.

The G8, or Group of 8, used to be the G7, a summit of the leaders of the 7 richest countries: the US, the UK, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, and Canada, plus the EU. About 10 years ago, Russia joined the club. The meeting is held yearly, and hosting responsibilities are rotated among the members. This year, it’s Japan’s turn and The Summit will be held in Hokkaido, July 7-9, far from the masses of potential protesters on the main island, as happened in Germany last year.

Before the main summit, the different ministries have their own summits. The Justice and Home Affairs meetings doesn’t seem as sexy as say the Foreign Ministers meeting or the main summit itself. But check out the topics on the agenda and it’s quite an intriguing list.

• Counter-terrorism (unavoidable topic and undeniably sexy)
• ID-related crime (trendy and timely issue)
• Countermeasures against drug crimes (so 80’s)
• Universal networking against transnational organized crime (very sexy)
• Capacity building assistance (huh?)
• The fight against sexual exploitation of children (probably the most important agenda, affecting the most people)

If it was me, I would have also added the illegal trafficking of organs and people. And I doubt ‘transnational organized crime’ includes corporate crime: pollution, labor exploitation, market manipulation, and accounting chicanery.

The Summit

This will be the last G8 for George Bush, and the first for Dmitry Medvedev, Gordon Brown, and Yasuo Fukuda. While protesters demonstrate, the world leaders mostly party together, since the hard work is done during the ministerial meetings.  I guess George never learned to pour a beer properly.

Then they hold press conferences while they’re drunk.

Also attending will be a recent addition of the G8, the O5. The Outreach 5 are developing nations with economies that have bulldozed their way into the top 10, or are getting there. China is chief among them, with Mexico, Brazil, India, and South Africa. South Africa is a strange one in that group since it’s economy is nowhere near the top 10. Egypt may have been a better representative of a major African economy.

These five come at the insistence mostly of Japan and Italy. And it resembles suspiciously the group of countries that is seeking permanent membership in the UN Security Council (except of course China, which is already a member). To really round out the top dozen economies though, both Spain and South Korea should be included.

Spain will be represented by the rotating EU presidency, which is currently held by Spaniards. And now that Ban Ki Moon, the UN General Secretary, has announced he will be attending, I suppose South Korea will also be represented in a roundabout way.

Every year the host country sets the agenda. What’s on the agenda this year?

• Climate Change and the Environment (As the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, these countries can have the biggest impact on this issue. Come on you idiots, make it happen.)
• Development and Africa (Great issue to raise, and urgent. But I can’t help but view this as a broader strategy by Japan to get UN member nation support to become a permanent Security Council member. Hopefully, the African Union representative can develop some leverage towards real benefits.)
• World Economy (They always talk about this issue in every summit. It’s really the original and main purpose of the G8 Summit: how do we make more money.)
• Intellectual Property Rights (See above. The real agenda here is about controlling the internet, and forcing internet providers to disclose how its subscribers use the web.)
• Nuclear Non-proliferation (Also known as: how do we keep other countries from having what we already have. I’m all for keeping any countries from having nuclear weapon capabilities and that includes all the countries that already have them.)

The G8 Summit is one of the more interesting global events, right up there with the Olympics and the World Cup, so I recommend following the proceedings like any other sporting event. For more information about the G8 Summit you can check out the informative Wikipedia page, the official site, which has more detailed info, and also this site for kids, which I find odd on many levels.

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