From: Corporate Watch in Japanese <>
Date: Mon, 10 Jul 2000 18:30:10 -0700
Seq: 55


The Guardian - United Kingdom

Know where Okinawa is? Neither did I until last week when I managed to find
it, a tiny island which is nearer to Taipei or Shanghai than it is to
Tokyo. My knowledge of Okinawa consists of second world war horrors, when
the civilian population retreated to caves to plot suicide bombing missions
against the invading US army. The legacy of this is that a fifth of the
island is taken up by US bases and scandals periodically erupt (as they did
last week) about servicemen preying on local women. So when it fell to
Japan to host the G8 annual jamboree a few years ago, Tokyo hit on a
brilliant wheeze. Pour millions of yen into a purpose-built conference
centre for the G8 summit on one of Okinawa's prettiest bays, and you kill
two birds with one stone: you compensate the Okinawans for their Yankee
occupiers and you avoid the nasty fracas that these tedious demonstrators
cook up when you put the G8 leaders in a major city. 

The fact that Okinawa is in the middle of nowhere has become its prime
virtue for a global political elite who are finding it increasingly
difficult to deal with that voluble circus which now happily set up camp
outside their get-togethers. Birmingham in 1998 and Cologne in 1999 were
bad enough - cities clogged up with all those debt campaigners and every
NGO in town - but things looked seriously out of hand in Seattle last
November and in Washington in April.
The Japanese decided not to take any risks, and they have spent more than
any previous G8 government doing exactly that. When, the weekend after
next, Tony Blair relaxes on the sun-lounger with old chum Bill Clinton,
watching the sun set over the Pacific, chilled Japanese beer in hand, they
need have no fear that demonstrators will brave the shark-infested waters
to wave placards. 

This is making Jubilee 2000, the debt relief campaign, very angry. They are
running out of time; they close up shop in December, and already some staff
are moving on to big, glamorous jobs in other NGOs. The fact that they have
engineered what is regarded as the most successful global activist campaign
since apartheid plays well on the CV. But their dedication was to the issue
not their careers, and they are acutely aware that the campaign may have

Their publication last week, Island Mentality, makes for painful reading
for all Jubilee 2000's fellow travellers. First, because it details how
little has been delivered: Uganda, the "star pupil" of western creditors,
will not have had one dollar of debt cancelled by the end of the year;
Tanzania has had its debt servicing reduced by the princely amount of 7%.
And these are the lucky ones who are scheduled to receive debt relief;
other countries such as Haiti and Nigeria, burdened with huge debt, are not
even in the queue. Second, because a tone of panic has crept in; knowing
there are only a few months left, Jubilee 2000 has made emotive (and
unsubstantiated) statements such as: "by stopping the collection of debt
payments now, the G8 . . would start making a difference - and saving lives
- immediately". The frustration is understandable. If you can't achieve
debt relief in the millennium year with millions of campaigners, when can

To say that Jubilee 2000 has failed is a bit of a volte face for this
newspaper which did more than most (with the arguable exception of the
Financial Times) to cover the campaign and to record its triumph in a)
mobilising an army of activists contrary to all the doom-mongering of
compassion fatigue; and b) getting results such as the G8's promises in
Cologne a year ago and Gordon Brown and Bill Clinton's competing offers to
cancel bilateral debt. But these achievements have never looked so fragile;
Cafod (the Christian charity) published a survey last week reporting that
more than half the population believe the debt problem has been solved. 

The fear is that the momentum to resolve the issue will simply ebb away. Mr
Brown is aware of these anxieties; his initiative yesterday to hold out
debt relief as a carrot to entice countries at war, such as Ethiopia, to
make peace is a bid for campaigners to keep faith that he will deliver. 

There are two critical issues: why is debt relief happening so slowly? And
why does it matter so much? The first question has got buried in two
conflicting views: either the creditors don't really want to give debt
relief, so they pile up criteria which ensure that nobody qualifies for it.
Or the villains are held to be the debtor countries themselves: they get
involved in wars, or jack up the pay of their teachers and nurses and fail
to balance their budgets. The truth lies somewhere between them. It also
draws in wider, linked questions of the reasons for Africa's political
instability, to which Clare Short sensibly proposed this weekend some
"joined-up government" between the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence
and her own department for international development. 

But before Mr Blair, who often talks of globalisation, tucks into his
sushi, perhaps he should consider this: debt relief is critical to ensuring
that a whole swath of the world isn't permanently trapped in a cycle of
poverty, interest payments and underdevelopment. This is not just leftie
rhetoric, it is widely accepted. What is at stake here is whether
globalisation really means the continuing enrichment of a small proportion
of the world's population at the expense of the deepening poverty and
instability of large tranches of the rest. Is globalisation for the few or
for the many, prime minister? 

But there is another answer to the question of why it matters. The debt
relief campaign throws into stark relief the central contradiction of
globalisation: it is to do with time. Money, information and trade are
moving faster around the world than ever before, but as they are speeding
up, so the political system to manage and regulate them is slowing, getting
bogged down in international negotiations and the turf wars of multilateral
institutions. The economic and the political are out of kilter; to use a
homely metaphor, it is like bike gears crunching. And it frustrates even
some politicians, wearing down the reserves of perseverance of the
genuinely committed such as Gordon Brown, as the process moves at the speed
of the lowest common denominator. Debt relief is developing into a major
test of the global political elite and its institutions - the International
Monetary Fund and the World Bank - to manage globalisation. Can they? Do
they want to? The questions are about both their capacity and their
political will. Disturbingly, it looks as if they put most effort into
managing (through manipulation, bureaucratic inertia or indifference) the
challenges to global capitalism, rather than the beast itself. 

As, for example, the retreat to Okinawa where they will escape from the
possibility of demos, tear gas and awkward questions, to contemplate the
soothing rhythm of the Pacific's waves breaking on the shore. 

Island Mentality is available from Jubilee 2000 Coalition, 1 Rivington
Street, London EC2A 3DT. 

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