G8 summit proved successful despite opposition

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
During his first visit to Okinawa as prime minister, Keizo Obuchi, left, is met by then Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine, right, among others at Naha Airport on March 25, 2000.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Okinawa’s return to Japan. This is the fourth installment of a series that looks at the politics surrounding Okinawa’s subsequent development and issues relating to the presence of U.S. bases.

U.S. President Bill Clinton and French President Jacques Chirac were among the world leaders attending an evening reception for the G8 summit in Okinawa at a Naha hotel on July 22, 2000.

While Okinawa-born J-pop superstar Namie Amuro was singing on stage, Chizuko Obuchi was seen alongside these dignitaries using a handkerchief to dab at her eyes. Her husband, Keizo Obuchi, had passed away two months earlier after having a stroke while he was prime minister.

One person who was there and saw those tears was then Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine, who believes the late prime minister would have so wanted to see the summit take place in Okinawa as he was the key figure in making it happen.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Muneo Suzuki

When Obuchi was a student at Waseda University, he was a member of a group supporting a movement demanding U.S.-administered Okinawa’s return to Japan that also wanted the remains of those killed in World War II to be collected. During Obuchi’s visits to Okinawa, Inamine’s father, a Waseda alumnus and founder of oil company Ryukyu Sekiyu (currently Ryuseki Corp.), took good care of him.

When Obuchi became prime minister in July 1998, various areas in the country had already started working on bids to host the G8 summit during Japan’s turn. Previous such summits in Japan had been held in Tokyo, but the 2000 edition was to be the first hosted outside the capital.

“After Inamine became Okinawa governor in November 1998, the prime minister leaned very much toward Okinawa,” said then Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Muneo Suzuki, who is now an upper house member belonging to Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party).

Although Fukuoka had been seen as the most likely host city, Obuchi told Suzuki in January 1999, “Look, it’s definitely going to be Okinawa.”

The Foreign Ministry was reluctant because there would be a negative impact on the summit if there was an incident or an accident involving U.S. forces in Okinawa Prefecture. Just before the announcement of the host city in April that year, the ministry said that Okinawa “has many problems” in a document it compiled for government eyes only. But Obuchi pushed through such opposition.

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Then U.S. President Bill Clinton visits the Cornerstone of Peace monument at the Peace Memorial Park in Itoman, Okinawa, on July 21, 2000.

During the summit, Inamine took Clinton to the Cornerstone of Peace monument at the Peace Memorial Park in Itoman on the southern tip of Okinawa island. The park is in the city’s Mabuni area, where the last fierce fighting in the Battle of Okinawa occurred near the end of World War II. Inscribed on the monument are the names of people from all nationalities who lost their lives in that battle.

Inamine directly spoke to Clinton about the desire to scale down U.S. bases in Okinawa and the necessity to take preventive measures against incidents and accidents involving U.S. military personnel. In arrangements prior to the summit, the U.S. side had expressed reservations about such issues being mentioned, but Inamine decided to convey the wishes of the people of Okinawa.

He added that some of his remarks might have been perceived as rude, but Clinton replied that he was glad to hear Inamine’s frank opinions and promised to do what he could to resolve the issues.

In the end, the summit not only raised Okinawa’s profile, but also contributed in improving its transportation network and accommodations. It also played a part in boosting tourism in the prefecture.

“Not only were Uchinanchu [people of Okinawa] around the world made proud, but also everything worked out positively,” Inamine said. “I only wish Obuchi could have been there.”