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Sunday, June 11, 2006

After past failure, Kansai unites to seek G8 summit in 2008

Staff writer

OSAKA — In late 1999, Osaka Prefecture was shocked when Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi announced that the Group of Eight summit Japan was to host the following year would take place in Okinawa Prefecture.

The prefecture had just built a new international convention center in the city of Osaka and local officials were under the impression they would be hosting the high-profile summit.

After Obuchi's announcement, local political and business leaders blamed Osaka's failure on bureaucratic infighting between the prefectural and municipal levels. The prefecture wanted to host the summit, while the local bureaucrats were concentrating on the city's bid to host the 2008 Olympics — which also failed.

This time, the prefecture has joined forces with its capital city, as well as neighboring Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures, to lobby the central government for when Japan next hosts a G8 summit in 2008.

The governors of the three prefectures, the mayors of Kobe, Osaka, and Kyoto, and the head of the Kansai Economic Federation, form the nucleus of the 2008 Kansai Summit Invitation Committee, which held its inaugural meeting Thursday evening. Cooperation, not competition, was the main theme.

"Osaka, Kyoto, and Hyogo prefectures must cooperate with each other in order to bring the summit meetings to Kansai," said Yoshihisa Akiyama, chairman of the Kansai Economic Federation and one of the leaders of the invitation committee, after the conference.

The annual G8 summits also include separate meetings of their finance and foreign ministers, but the crown jewel is the Leaders' Summit. Despite promises Thursday of cooperation among all three prefectures no matter who hosts the eight presidents and prime ministers, there is already intense competition for the honor of hosting the Leaders' Summit.

Those who argue Kyoto is the best choice for the leaders' talks point to the city's facilities, experience with big events and urban design.

"The Kyoto State Guesthouse on the grounds of the Kyoto Imperial Palace looks great in photo ops. It's run by the Prime Minister's Office, which will choose where to hold the summit meetings, and it got good reviews from the Americans when President George W. Bush met Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi there last November," said one Kansai-based European diplomat, speaking anonymously.

"Finally, Kyoto's wide streets and checkerboard layout means VIPs can get around easier, and with less security concern, than in the twisting, narrow streets of Kobe and Osaka," the diplomat added.

Osaka Prefecture is also emphasizing security as well as convenience and an abundance of good hotels.

"Concerns about a possible terrorist attack are always great at G8 summits. Osaka's plan to host the summit emphasizes security for all participants," Osaka Gov. Fusae Ohta said. "In addition, we have a modern conference center, easy access to a large number of first-class hotels, and easy access to airports."

Hyogo Prefecture is considered by most people familiar with efforts to bring the G8 to Kansai to be a long-shot for the Leaders' Summit, but says its biggest advantage is easy access, as it would hold the confab on Port Island, which is adjacent to Kobe Airport and just across the bay from Kansai International Airport.

Over the past few months, as the concept of an all-Kansai G8 Summit has formed, there have been numerous ideas on what kind of proposal should be presented to the central government.

One idea some with the invitation committee favor is for Kyoto to host the Leaders' Summit, Kobe the foreign ministers' meeting, and Osaka the finance ministers' gathering.

The reasons, sources say, are because Kyoto seems to have the upper hand for clinching the Leaders' Summit among many in the central government and the foreign diplomatic community.

Kobe, with its tradition of being particularly open to the West, is a natural choice for the foreign ministers' meeting, while Osaka, with its history as a business and financial center, is best suited for hosting the finance chiefs.

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The Japan Times

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