Prague, 24 July 2000 (RFE/RL) - Western press commentary today and over the weekend focuses on the results of the summit meeting of the world's seven leading industrial nations and Russia, which concluded yesterday on Okinawa. The meeting ended with a pledge to help developing countries reduce their debts, fight disease and poverty, improve education and join the new information economy. There are also comments today on Russia and on British Prime Minister Tony Blair's current political problems.
On the Okinawa meeting, The Irish Times regrets that "the leading politicians from the world's seven wealthiest nations and Russia have failed to come up with radical measures to fight poverty in the developing world. The proposals adopted at the G-8 summit." the paper says, "amount to little more than a Band-Aid the world's most festering sore. After a series of summits spanning 12 years in Toronto, London, Naples, Lyons, Cologne and Okinawa, the abolition of developing world debt seems as remote as ever."
The paper's editorial goes on: "As the G-8 issued a statement in Japan offering to help the poorest nations access the Internet, a set of totally different priorities was being highlighted half a world away. From its headquarters in Rome, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) issued a report showing attempts to stem malnutrition in developing nations was behind schedule. The target of reducing the number of malnourished in the world to 400 million by 2015 would not be met."
Under these circumstances, the editorial argues, "that the G-8 leaders should appear to give preference to Internet access has enraged a large number of interest groups ranging from relief agencies to UN Secretary General United Nations Kofi Annan. For its part," the paper adds, "the G-8 blamed debtor countries themselves for failing to meet the conditions set out for debt reductions. In the case of developing world countries involved in violent conflicts, these rules have some justification." it allows. But it sums up: "Other stringent conditions are less warranted, echoing the Victorian concept that aid should be made available only to that group known as "'the deserving poor.'"
Even stronger criticism of the summit is contained in an editorial in Britain's Guardian dally, which says the assembled leaders showed "disdain for the poor." The paper writes: "If words could repay debts, then the summit would have been less of a shambles than it was. Failure to make any significant progress on debt reduction for developing countries, despite agreement a year ago, casts a dark shadow across the prospects for new initiatives agreed this year."
The editorial goes on: "The summit committed the U.S., Britain, Japan, Canada, Germany, France, Italy and Russia to a 25% reduction in the number of HIV-infected young people by 2010 and a 50% reduction in tuberculosis and malarial deaths by the same time. The rich countries also promised to set up a task force to 'bridge the information and knowledge divide between the rich and the poor. Noble aim," comments the editorial, but what," it asks, "do they amount to beyond being aspirations without a delivery mechanism behind them and with the U.S. Congressional axe poised over anything that costs money?"
"Unless something is done quickly," the paper argues, "developing countries will fall even further behind. Most new jobs in the West require varying degrees of computer or keyboard skills. Poor people in the third world will increasingly miss out on this kind of job.
There is also evidence of investment being pulled from poor countries in pursuit of dot.com companies in the U.S. and Europe. If the G-8 is going to deal with these problems," the editorial concludes, "then it will have to reorganize drastically and provide itself with an effective delivery system. At the moment, the annual summit is little more than an expensive talking shop."
In Norway, the daily Aftenposten expresses a similar view in its editorial: "As usual, the world's most powerful leaders were sharply criticized because of their unwillingness to help the world's poor," it writes. "As usual, the criticism was well-reasoned: the rich like to think of themselves first."
But, the paper adds, "there is something wrong with the usual kind of criticism, for the Okinawa summit was the first in a long, long time to focus on exactly the kind of problems it was criticized of having virtually ignored in the past: widespread disease, the digital gap and education."
The editorial goes on: "An interesting aspect of the G-8 summit was participation of Russia's president Vladimir Putin. Surprisingly, his conduct was reasoned and constructive. He did not press for a settlement of Russia's debt, he went as far as to criticize Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, and he propounded an enhanced fight against terrorism and unemployment. This seemed to reflect a self-confident Russia that is trying to re-emerge as an important international player -- a significant, positive development."
Denmark's Information daily writes in its editorial: "Behind a wall of security officers, the eight leaders participated in one of those group therapy shows designed to give us the impression that the world has become a less shameful place to live in. In fact," it says, "it has. Globalization of the economy, the Internet, the same Made-in-China goods we all use have shrunk the world -- at least the developed world where the happy fifth of its population lives."
The paper continues: "The Okinawa meeting was thus a failure even though the world's leaders did a good job covering it up with niceties and commonplaces. Regrettably, words and acts did not correspond with each other. The editorial concludes: "It is hard to believe the G-8 promise that it will halve the world's poverty by 2015. The world's leaders appear to have developed the kind of island mentality that makes them forget that they live in an ocean of poverty and suffering that surrounds their rich societies."
Two comments over the weekend in the Washington Post discuss recent developments in Russia. On Sunday (July 23), an editorial in the paper said President Vladimir Putin's recent visit to Beijing (July 16) provided the Russian and Chinese governments an occasion to issue what the paper calls "a blistering attack" on the U.S.'s efforts to build a National Missile Defense, or NMD. This, it said, seems to provide "more evidence of NMD's destabilizing impact on relations among the great powers."
But, the paper added, "there is another way to think about this story. Mr. Putin traveled from China to North Korea, where he produced a North Korean pledge to give up its ballistic missile programs in exchange for international help with 'peaceful space research.'" The editorial adds, "this followed China's own push on North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to show a more conciliatory face to South Korea, and, by extension, the United States." That, it says, helped produce the recent inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang.
"In other words," the editorial sums up, "China's and Russia's own nervousness about NMD may be inducing them to rein in the dangerous North Korean missile program that provoked the U.S. to build missile defenses in the first place. For now," it goes on, "the Russian and Chinese maneuverings vis-a-vis North Korea are probably just propaganda, a bid to increase and exploit European misgivings about the U.S. program. Even so, the fact that Moscow and Beijing feel obliged even to appear concerned about North Korea's capabilities is a victory, albeit a backhanded one, for NMD."
Also in the Washington Post, columnist David Ignatius (published in the IHT of July 24) assesses what he calls Putin's "battle with the Russian oligarchs." Ignatius says the fight "often seems like the Iran-Iraq war. It's a shame that both sides can't lose."
Ignatius goes to say that "there is one possible outcome in Moscow that would benefit everyone. This is a negotiated peace in which the oligarchs, in exchange for their business survival, agree to make changes that would create real businesses and capital markets in Russia. In that way," he adds, "the oligarchs would give back to the people some of the resources they have plundered over the past decade."
Ignatius continues: "Mr. Putin should push the oligarchs to invest more at home in Russia rather than export their money to secret Swiss bank accounts. He should not, the paper argues, "offer a blanket amnesty to the oligarchs, anymore than he should continue to wage personal vendettas against them." He concludes: "Mr. Putin's goal should be not to wipe out the tycoons but to create thousands more of them as Russian capitalism grows and prospers."
New York Times:
The New York Times discusses what it calls British Prime Minister Tony Blair's current "travails" in an editorial today. The paper writes: "Blair has been a remarkably sure-footed politician. But a recent succession of miscues has dented his popularity and thrown his government onto the defensive. To recover before next year's likely election," the paper says, "he will have to show his government can deliver effective policies as well as carefully crafted imagery."
The editorial goes on: "This month the Blair government suffered acute embarrassment through the leak of two internal memos. One, written by Blair in April, complained that the government was seen as losing touch with the general public on social issues like crime, the family and patriotism." The paper notes: "He called for a series of 'eye-catching initiatives' personally associating himself with these issues."
"Labor," the paper concludes, "still has a good chance of winning the next elections. But for that to happen," it argues, "Blair needs to shift his attention from image management to making sure his government spends the new money wisely and effectively."
International Herald Tribune:
In a commentary for the International Herald Tribune today, John Vinocur says that if Blair's much-vaunted "'Third Way' needed an exit line from European politics, Blair has provided it himself." He argues: "the man's own memo on what is wrong with the Labor Government, mysteriously leaked, hardly mapped a new burst of Third Way social justice or extra measures of 'compassion with a hard edge.'"
Vinocur also says that what he calls the memo's "sub-text" actually carried this message to his government: "Get moving on something in relation to family policy that has jewels and tassels but looks 'entirely conventional.'"
The commentator concludes: "The Third Way has almost run out of business, not so much by being proved wrong as through skin-tight proximity to the recently diminished status of Tony Blair."
(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to this report)