TRIBUTE series



A meeting of ‘the rich men’s club’ comes under fire for lack of charity

The international scene has recently witnessed some notable events, one of them being the prestigious and high-powered G8 meeting held in Okinawa in Japan. As a meeting of custodians of the destiny of global economics, it was crucial and the timing lent it special importance. The meeting took place in the aftermath of the Havana Summit of G77 nations and the WTO fiasco in Seattle.

These challenges obliged the G8 nations, which comprise the ‘rich men’s club,’ to proclaim their philosophy to the world. This was done through pledges, which were as extravagant as the champagne and caviar atmosphere of the Okinawa Summit that reportedly cost US$ 750 million.

These promises were of a highly dramatic character, and included vows to fight the root causes of poverty and conflict – and to this end, engage with non-G8 countries in order to halve absolute poverty by 2015. The G8 members also vowed to provide every child on Earth with education.

All agree that these are laudable objectives but the question is their credibility in the light of the G8’s performance so far. A key issue facing them is the indebtedness crippling the efforts of many countries for which there has been an almost universal clamour for relief. However, the failure of the G8 to honour a pledge to donate US$ 100 billion last year places doubt on its sincerity.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed disappointment by what he said was a “vague pledge to do better on the indebtedness issue,” which is regarded as one of the most serious omissions in the G8’s track record.

It is noteworthy that a number of Third World leaders – including Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria – attended the meeting. Obasanjo explained that their presence was to pass on to the leaders of the developed world what developing nations believe should be done as partners in development, and as tenants in the same global village.

Another attendee was President Vladimir Putin who made quite an impression with his suavity and statesmanship. One of Putin’s achievements on this occasion was apparently to persuade the US to defer finalisation of plans for a missile shield – which had become a critical issue for China, Russia and North Korea.

The Okinawa meeting must be seen not only as a show of muscle but also an effort by the G8 to strike a deal with its rival in the context of mounting confrontation between the two worlds.

Turning to the regions, the picture is one of uncertainty in prevailing trouble spots with prospects of an explosion.

With regard to the Middle East, there was the breakdown of the Camp David talks upon which hopes had been pinned. This has created a crisis of uncertainty over Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Yasser Arafat’s intention to declare a Palestinian state on 13 September – unilaterally if necessary (although he appears to have hinted to French President Jacques Chirac during a recent meeting with him that he was leaving this open).

Yet, Arafat sounded defiant in his statements that the declaration of a Palestinian state had been delayed by over a year – according to the Oslo Accords, this was due on 4 May 1999 – and he took the opportunity to remind US President Bill Clinton of this.

It seems that Clinton who hosted the Camp David talks is clearly in a dilemma and has warned Arafat that unilateral action would have adverse consequences. The failure of the talks appears to have been due to disagreement over Jerusalem.

The issue presumably occasioned the move to summon an Arab Summit to discuss Jerusalem and Arafat is reportedly canvassing this proposal with other Arab states. At the time of writing however, both the Palestinians and Israelis are reportedly continuing with their dialogue, and the prospect of a summit between them hasn’t been ruled out.

BY  The late Deshamanya Dr. Vernon L. B. Mendis