Leading Article: Pomp and circumstance but little else in Tokyo

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IF IT were to be judged by appearances, the G7 summit that opens today in Tokyo would surely impress: the leaders of the world's most powerful industrial nations, surrounded by 11,000 media people, sit down to tackle the great global issues of recession, protectionism, war and non-proliferation. Sadly, appearances are deceptive. As so often, the greater the pomp, the smaller the result.

The great leaders themselves are in a pretty sorry state. Their host, Kiichi Miyazawa is drowning in domestic political scandal. He lost a vote of confidence last month and faces a general election in two weeks. Germany's Helmut Kohl is deeply unpopular at home, leader of a nation unhappy with itself and with him. President Mitterrand is locked into a miserable cohabitation with his political enemies, his own party shot from under him by the electorate. His prime minister, Edouard Balladur, has decided not to turn up.

John Major carries the ignoble distinction of the lowest recorded score in British public esteem. Kim Campbell, Canada's new prime minister, is not expected to last. The best that can be said for the long-term chances of the Italian prime minster, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, is that he never planned a career in politics. Jacques Delors, the European Commission president, has called in sick. That leaves Bill Clinton, who, after a dreadful start, has briefly bombed back up the opinion polls. His officials spent much of last week dampening expectations that he might triumph in Tokyo.

When the former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing invited four of his colleagues to Rambouillet in 1975, after the first oil price shock, it seemed that such meetings might achieve something. In 1978, in Bonn, there was even an agreement on co-ordinated growth, although it did not last. Since then the story of G7 has been one of loud fanfare and little else. Perhaps it is no bad thing that the summit communiques have already been written.