Since last year's summit in Munich, the Japanese have been gearing up to host an event that would symbolise a growing diplomatic role on the world stage. By a quirk of fate, they find themselves plunged into a campaign for an unforeseen election which is almost certain to change the face of post-war Japanese politics.
Commenting on the unfairness of it all, Japan's Foreign Minister, Kabun Muto, said last week: 'At the summit, Japan really must do its best not to be regarded as the corpse. I wanted the Tokyo summit to be held in a calm and quiet atmosphere.'
He can take heart from the fact that Kiichi Miyazawa, his Prime Minister, will be in good company. Fellow lame ducks are France's President, Francois Mitterrand, whose Socialist government was voted out last March; Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, Italy's technocrat Prime Minister put in office to fill the vacuum following the dismemberment by corruption scandal of the country's political class; and Kim Campbell, the Canadian Prime Minister who succeeded the unpopular Brian Mulroney last month, but has yet to fight or win an election.
The men in the doghouse are Germany's Chancellor Helmut Kohl, discredited for failing to take more seriously the tide of neo-Nazism in his country; and the two least popular leaders of their respective nations since the Second World War - John Major and Bill Clinton (assuming the latter's rise in the polls since his decision to bomb Baghdad at the weekend is a mere blip on the screen).
'Their individual weaknesses do diminish the prospects. They all lower their expectations of what they can achieve,' said a Western official.
The problem at Tokyo is even more fundamental. G-7 summits usually involve the summiteers agreeing to texts written months in advance by officials who prepare the foothills - the sherpas. But given that summits come round at fixed times, while crises like trade wars and real wars respect no such calendar, 'the leaders cannot find a single issue on which they can agree at this time,' said a British diplomat. 'Gatt is a mess; they can't agree on significant aid to Russia because nobody has any money; and Yugoslavia, forget it. They won't even want to talk about that.'
G-7 summits are supposed to be about the world economy. Last year in Munich, we were told there would be no substantive movement on Gatt pending the outcome of the French referendum on Maastricht. The referendum has come and gone, but the problem remains unresolved with no movement in sight.
It looks like Edouard Balladur, the French Prime Minister, made the right decision in staying at home to focus on domestic policy while letting Mr Mitterrand fight France's corner. His explanation was telling: 'I have no need to parade around here and there while there is a lot to do in France.'
At the end of the day, the one issue where the seven may finally make progress is the need to slim down G-7 itself. For years, the players have been calling privately for a return to the 'fireside chat' formula with which it all started. But given the need to maintain officials in jobs - as one summit veteran said, 'it keeps them off the streets', we should not expect too radical a reform.Reuse content