SUMMIT WICKED THIS WAY COMES
The G8 Summit gives nothing back, brings out Japan’s bad habits
By Arudou Debito
Column 43 for the Japan Times Zeit Gist Community Page
“Director’s Cut”, Draft 19, as submitted to the JT, with links to sources
Article as appeared in Japan Times Tuesday, April 22, 2008
You’ve probably heard about July’s G8 Summit in Toyako, in my home prefecture of Hokkaido. If you’re unfamiliar with the event, a primer from the Foreign Affairs Ministry (http://www.mofa.go.jp/mofaj/gaiko/summit/toyako08):
“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 people (such as your correspondent) regarding their roots and intentions. Not to mention “Japanese Only” signs appearing on businesses (some still up to this day).
It spoiled things for the locals: Not only were foreign-looking peoples subjected to fearful and derisive looks at curbside and coffee shop, but also shopkeeps, hunkered down behind shuttered doors, missed business opportunities. Despite no incidents of Non-Japanese violence, official apologies for the inconvenience never came.
This is not unprecedented in Japan. Flash back to 1966 when The Beatles performed in the Budokan. 10,000 spectators had to share seats with 3000–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 last December 31’s Yomiuri Shimbun, the Justice Ministry has expanded the catchnet to “antiglobalization activists” (whatever that means).
The dolphin in the tuna: According to Kiyokazu Koshida, Director of the Hokkaido Peoples’ Forum on G8 Summit (http://kitay-hokkaido.net), earlier this year South Korean activist Kim Aehaw, of the Committee of Asian Women, was denied entry into Japan for advocating women workers’ rights. She later got in as a private citizen, but this demonstrates the government moving even months in advance to thwart infiltration.
Meanwhile for those already here, The Summit is eroding civil liberties. It’s not just that Toyako and 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” (“shuukai”). 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 kms from the Summit site. So it’s like saying an event in the Imperial Palace forbids public gatherings in Hakone; in fact, a security radius this big covers just about all of Tokyo Prefecture.
So what of the alternate summits (http://g8ngoforum.sakura.ne.jp/english/) under the Hokkaido People’s Forum–on world poverty, indigenous peoples, peace studies, even economic and environmental issues that matter to host Hokkaido? Tough. Deemed equally dangerous are coincidental Sapporo fests, such as the Flower Festival, the Pacific Music Festival, the Nakajima Koen Flea Market, and the Sapporo Summer Festival.
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.
Look, I’m all for bringing international events to impoverished Hokkaido. As long as we get something back from our hard-earned taxes to enjoy. We don’t from a Summit. It is not, for example, an Olympics, where in 1972, Sapporo got games, buildings, arenas, and a subway to enjoy. Nor a World Cup, where we inherited one of Japan’s best stadiums for our champion baseball team. With a Summit, little will remain in Toyako except an afterglow; according to the Hokkaido Shimbun (Sept. 4, 2007), even the Summit’s International Media Center will be razed.
Officially, the Hokkaido Business Federation does somehow estimate a 37.9 billion yen income 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”? Who even remembers the past five Summit sites? Go ahead. Name them. See what I mean?
But in terms of expense, the Summit’s three days of leaders in love is projected to cost, according to Yahoo News last year, 18.5 billion yen (about 180 million US dollars). Fine print: 14 billion of it is earmarked for “security”. Therefore who profits? Security forces, which get the lion’s share of the budget, and the government, which creates another precedent of cracking down on the distrusted public.
That’s the biggest irony of these Summits: Despite the Great Powers’ sloganeering about fostering democracy worldwide, their meetings employ very anti-democratic methods to quash debate and public participation. If the Great Powers 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 these bunker mentalities encourage in Japan.
Even a relaxed Japan has the trappings of a mild police state. For example, extreme powers of search, seizure, interrogation, detention, and conviction already granted the prosecution in our criminal justice system. Moreover, something as fundamental to a democracy as an outdoor public assembly (a right guaranteed by our Constitution) requires permission from police and local businesses (Zeit Gist March 4, 2003).
Furthermore, Japan’s biggest police forces–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.” (TOKYO RISING, page 169)
Now send 1000 Tokyo “security police” (plus 300 “advisors”, according to April 14’s Yomiuri), along with another 2000 planned cops to Hokkaido, and watch what happens. Dollars to donuts the same outcome as Japan’s G8 Summit in Nago, Okinawa:
“Of the 81 billion yen Japan spent on hosting the summit–ten 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 twenty aircraft and one hundred naval vessels (including destroyers), patrolled the land, sea, and sky of Okinawa,” reported the Japan Policy Research Institute in September 2000.
JPRI continued: “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.
“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 Manchester 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% 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 3000 amateur “local residents” and “neighborhood associations” in Ikebukuro and Shinjuku, to “watch for suspicious people” around “stations and important facilities”. That now widens the security radius to 800 kilometers!
Source: Yomiuri News podcast April 14, 2008, from minute 13
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 Japanese 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 for a visit. We need to rein in Japan’s mandarins converting Japan into a Police State, cracking down on its already stunted civil society.
Otherwise, Japan will remain amongst its G8 brethren, as scholar Chalmers Johnson put it, “an economic giant, but political pygmy.”
(Previous five G8 Summits: Heiligendamm, Saint Petersburg, Gleneagles, Sea Island, Evian. How many did you remember?)