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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

THE ZEIT GIST

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CHRIS MacKENZIE ILLUSTRATION

Summit wicked this way comes

July's G8 gabfest will bring out the worst in Japan — and it won't benefit host Hokkaido


You've probably heard about July's G8 Summit in Toyako, in my home prefecture of Hokkaido. In case you're unfamiliar with the event, here's a primer from the Foreign Affairs Ministry:

"The Group of Eight (G8) Summit is an annual meeting attended by . . . Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and the President of the European Commission; . . . leaders freely and vigorously exchange opinions on a variety of issues facing the global community, centering on economic and social problems."

While I do support people (especially those with armies behind them) talking things over peacefully, let's consider the societal damage this event is wreaking upon its host.

International events tend to bring out the worst in Japan. Given the control-freak nature of our bureaucracy — exacerbated manifold when the world is watching — the government opportunely invokes extralegal powers in the name of "security."

A good example is the 2002 World Cup, where I witnessed firsthand (given Sapporo's England vs. Argentina match) the overreaction by the police and the press. We had months of "anti- hooligan" media campaigns, several thousand riot police ferried up from the mainland, and Checkpoint Charlies on every downtown corner. Police were systematically stopping and questioning off-color types (such as your correspondent) regarding their roots and intentions, and "Japanese Only" signs (some of which are still there) went up outside businesses.

It spoiled things for the locals: Not only were foreign-looking people subjected to fearful and derisive looks at curb-sides and cafes, but also shopkeepers, hunkered down behind shuttered doors, missed out on business opportunities. Despite there being no reported incidents of violence involving non-Japanese, official apologies for the inconvenience never came.

This is not unprecedented in Japan. Flash back to 1966, when The Beatles performed at Tokyo's Budokan. Ten thousand spectators had to share seats with 3,000 — yes, 3000 — cops. The fuzz allowed no more than measured applause; cameras were readied to photograph anyone waving a banner or even standing up to cheer.

It spoiled things back then too. According to interviews from the Beatles Anthology, the Fab Four felt like prisoners in their hotel rooms. George compared the atmosphere to "a military maneuver"; Ringo said people had gone "barmy." They never came back to Japan as a group.

Now factor in the omnipresent "terrorist threat" rocking our world. Remember last November when Immigration regained power to fingerprint almost all foreigners, including Permanent Residents? It was first justified as a means to control terrorism and infectious diseases, then foreign crime. Now, for the summit, according to Dec. 31's Yomiuri Shimbun, the Justice Ministry has expanded the catch-net to "antiglobalization activists."

The dolphin in the tuna: According to Kiyokazu Koshida, director of the Hokkaido Peoples' Forum on G8 Summit, an advocate of women workers' rights was denied entry into Japan earlier this year. South Korean activist Kim Aehaw, of the Committee of Asian Women, entered the country last year as a formal representative of her group; this year, however, she was only allowed in as a private citizen, which suggests the government is moving even months in advance to keep out what it sees as potential troublemakers.

Meanwhile, for those already here, civil liberties are being eroded in the leadup to the summit. It's not just that Toyako and its environs are closed to the public for the duration. The Sapporo City Government, at the behest of the Sapporo police, announced last December that between July 1 and 11 the three major parks in Sapporo would be off-limits to "gatherings" ("shukai"). This was, after protests, amended to ask gatherers to "restrain themselves" ("jishuku"), but the effect is the same.

Needless to say, these parks are public spaces, and about 80 km from the summit site. A security radius this big would cover just about all of Tokyo Prefecture; it's the equivalent of forbidding public gatherings in Hakone because of an event at the Imperial Palace in central Tokyo.

So what of the alternate summits planned by the Hokkaido People's Forum — on world poverty, indigenous peoples, peace studies, even economic and environmental issues that matter to host Hokkaido? Tough. Also forced to reschedule were the Flower Festival, the Pacific Music Festival, the Sapporo Summer Festival and the Nakajima Koen Flea Market. Very subversive stuff indeed.

But who cares about the needs of the local yokels, as long as the world's leaders can enjoy their sequestration in distant hotels, dinners uninterrupted by potential unpleasantries?

I'm all for bringing international events to impoverished Hokkaido, as long as we get something back from our hard-earned taxes to enjoy. In 1972, we got the Winter Olympic Games, buildings, arenas and a subway. The World Cup left us with one of Japan's best stadiums for our champion baseball team. After the summit, however, little will remain in Toyako except an afterglow; according to the Hokkaido Shimbun, even the summit's International Media Center will be razed.

Officially, the Hokkaido Business Federation has somehow come up with an estimate of ¥37.9 billion in income resulting from the summit over the next five years (no doubt including the unrelated ski-bum boom in Niseko). But seriously now, will people flock to Toyako to buy, say, "G8 Summit manju" buns? Who even remembers the past five summit sites? Go ahead — name them. See what I mean?

According to Yahoo News, the summit's three days of leaders in love is projected to cost ¥18.5 billion yen (about $180 million). Fine print: ¥14 billion of that is earmarked for "security." So who profits? Security forces, which get the lion's share of the budget, and the government, which creates another precedent with its crackdown on the distrusted public.

That's the biggest irony of these summits: Despite the Great Powers' sloganeering about fostering democracy worldwide, their meetings employ notoriously antidemocratic methods to quash debate and public participation. If the G8 member states are this afraid of dissidents spoiling their party, might it not be opportune for a democratic rethink of their policies? Especially when you consider what this bunker mentality encourages in Japan.

Even when not suffering from pre-summit syndrome, Japan has the trappings of a mild police state: extreme powers of search, seizure, interrogation, detention and conviction are already granted to the prosecution in our criminal justice system. Moreover, something as fundamental to a democracy as an outdoor public assembly (a right guaranteed by the Constitution) requires permission from police and local businesses (Zeit Gist, March 4, 2003).

Furthermore, Japan's biggest police force — Tokyo's — can at times like these slip the leash of public accountability. To quote Edward Seidensticker, an author not given to intemperate criticisms:

"The chief of the Tokyo Prefectural Police is appointed by a National Police Agency with the approval of the prime minister and upon the advice of a Prefectural Police Commission, which is ineffectual. None of these agencies is under the control of governor and council. Tokyo becomes a police city when it is thought necessary to guard against the embarrassment of having someone shoot at a president or a queen or a pope."

Now send 1,000 Tokyo "security police" (plus 300 "advisers," according to the Yomiuri), along with another 2,000 regular cops to Hokkaido, and watch what happens — dollars to doughnuts the same outcome as in 2000 at Japan's last G8 Summit, in Nago, Okinawa:

"Of the ¥81 billion Japan spent on hosting the summit — 10 times more than any country ever spent before — about half went for security. Some 22,000 policemen specially flown in from across Japan, backed up by 20 aircraft and 100 naval vessels (including destroyers), patrolled the land, sea, and sky of Okinawa," reported the Japan Policy Research Institute in September 2000.

"Swimmers and divers were flushed from surrounding seas, the cavernous insides of ancient tombs were carefully inspected, and elaborate security precautions around all major roads used by the G8 motorcades made it virtually impossible for local Okinawans to leave their homes, let alone get near the precincts of the summit conference," JPRI continued. "If anyone tried, police were quick to take down name and license number, and secret service officials in black suits stealthily recorded on camera the faces of local demonstrators conducting an innocuous 'Nago peace walk.' "

Finally, citing a Guardian reporter, the report concluded, "Holding the G8 meeting in a remote island setting, briefly converted into a deluxe version of Alcatraz, did the trick."

Hokkaido, with 20 percent of Japan's land mass, is clearly too big to "Alcatraz." But the bureaucrats are giving it a good old-college try. They aren't just stifling social movements in Hokkaido's biggest city; according to the Yomiuri (April 14), the police are deputizing about 3,000 amateur "local residents" and "neighborhood associations" in Tokyo's Ikebukuro and Shinjuku to "watch for suspicious people" around "stations and important facilities." That widens the security radius to 800 km!

The point is, international events bring out bad habits in Japan. And now we have Tokyo bidding for the 2016 Olympics? Cue yet another orgiastic official fear-and-crackdown campaign foisted on the public, with the thick blue line of the nanny state the biggest profiteer.

Conclusion: I don't think Japan as a polity is mature enough yet to host these events. Japan must develop suitable administrative checks and balances, not to mention a vetting media, to stop people scaring Japanese society about the rest of the world just because it's coming to visit. We need to rein in Japan's mandarins and prevent them from converting Japan into a police state, cracking down on its already stunted civil society.

Otherwise, Japan will remain among its G8 brethren, as scholar Chalmers Johnson put it, "an economic giant, but a political pygmy."

Hokkaido Peoples' Forum on G8 Summit is at kitay-hokkaido.net; alternative summits: g8ngoforum.sakura.ne.jp/english/. The last five G8 sites are: Heiligendamm, St. Petersburg, Gleneagles, Sea Island and Evian. Send comments and story ideas to community@japantimes.co.jp


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