G7 Summit: Showcase exhibits a lame duck minister: For the first time leading industrial nations are ready to admit that the world recovery is on shaky ground

TOKYO - If none of the world's leaders is particularly happy about this week's G7 summit, Kiichi Miyazawa, the Japanese Prime Minister, is downright miserable. What was intended to be a carefully staged event broadcasting Japan's new confident face to the world has turned into a nightmare for the government in general and for him in particular, writes Terry McCarthy.

In two weeks elections are to be held at which the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is expected to lose its 38-year monopoly on power. Mr Miyazawa, for whom the summit was to be the crowning of his administration, is a most conspicuous lame duck - or, as it is rendered in Japanese, a shinitai (dead body). And with a chorus of complaints about Japan's soaring trade surplus rising from both the US and the EC, there is no one in the Japanese government who is in a position even to begin to talk seriously about the issue.

The confusion, uncertainty and political paralysis in Tokyo is precisely the opposite of what Japan had wanted to show when it began planning the showcase summit last year. It had hoped to reinforce its claims to speak for Asia, the world's fastest-growing region, but apart from lingering reluctance from Asian nations to grant it that role, the spectacle in Tokyo will be one of disagreement with Japan's closest ally.

Despite last-minute talks on trade with the US which finished in Tokyo last week, the two sides could not come up with a negotiating framework to deal with the growing friction on trade imbalances. In the past such impasses had been solved by the intervention of a politician making a grand gesture of compromise under intense gaiatsu - 'foreign pressure'. But today there are no politicians who are sure enough of themselves to intervene in the first place.

Still, the Japanese press will devote much attention to the form of the summit, even if little of substance emerges. A foreign correspondent in Tokyo was asked by a colleague from one of Japan's main newspapers how many people from his paper would cover the summit. When he replied 'two' the Japanese reporter grinned and announced that his paper was assigning 100 journalists to the event.

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