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Wednesday, March 9, 2005

Kyoto, Osaka vie to ensure their pricey venues host G-8

Staff writer

KYOTO -- On the eastern side of Kyoto Imperial Palace, home to emperors for over 1,000 years, a new palace of sorts is now entering the final stages of construction.

But where the history of the old palace is one of a sacred compound that foreigners were long forbidden to enter, the National Kyoto Reception Hall is being designed with the explicit purpose of welcoming international dignitaries -- among them, Kyoto hopes, the heads of state for the 2008 Group of Eight Summit.

The 20,000-sq.-meter plot in which the hall is being built is an oasis in the center of the city, complete with rock gardens and man-made streams winding past pine and cherry trees. The entire complex is designed with privacy and quiet contemplation in mind.

And it is this atmosphere that Kyoto officials hope will convince the central government to select the hall, and the city, as the host of the 2008 G-8 summit.

In announcing earlier this year that Kyoto wished to host the summit, Gov. Keiji Yamada stressed the city's history and culture as its greatest strengths.

"Kyoto has much to contribute to the world in terms of culture, and having the traditionally designed Kyoto Reception Hall is a highly significant factor in the decision to host the G-8 summit," Yamada said in his New Year's greetings to officials and invited guests.

That, however, does not sit well with neighboring Osaka Prefecture.

In 1999, upon completion of the Osaka International Conference Hall in central Osaka, the prefecture was confident that the city would host the 2000 G-8 summit. Senior prefectural officials had heard from Diet members hailing from Osaka constituencies that the central government greatly favored Osaka for logistic and security reasons.

They were shocked, therefore, in April 1999 when the late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi announced that the summit would be held in Okinawa, with the finance ministers' meeting taking place in Fukuoka Prefecture and the foreign ministers gathering in Miyazaki.

"A lot of people in Osaka felt betrayed by Obuchi," a prefectural official said on condition of anonymity. "In the early 1990s, we were told that if Osaka wanted to host the G-8 summit, it needed an appropriate venue. That's one of the main reasons the prefecture constructed the Osaka International Conference Hall."

And so Osaka Gov. Fusae Ohta said in early January that she hopes Osaka will once again bid for the 2008 summit.

The prospect of Osaka and Kyoto battling for the right to host the G-8 summit has many in the Kansai region worried that both could lose, thus depriving the entire area of an excellent international public relations chance.

Kyoto's Yamada and some in Osaka's business community are now discussing a possible Kansai G-8 that would include not only Osaka and Kyoto but also Kobe. The three cities would split the three meetings -- those for the finance chiefs, the foreign ministers and the eight leaders -- among themselves.

But this still wouldn't resolve the key question -- which city would host the leaders' summit, the most high-profile of the three?

Kyoto officials argue that, as their city has hosted huge international conferences, including the third Conference of parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP3), which led to the Kyoto Protocol, it is more than qualified.

They add that because both the new reception hall and the Kyoto International Conference Hall are run by the central government, there would be fewer communications problems between local and central government officials in preparations.

But Osaka countered by noting it successfully hosted the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in 1995. It also boasts both better access to Kansai International airport and Itami airport, as well as a much larger number of first-class international hotels than Kyoto.

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