G-7 Summit

       Expanding Democracy, pulling Africa into the global economy, and rubbing everyone’s nose in our economic turnaround–those are the issues that summiteers will start discussing on Saturday morning. But barely a week before the handover, the administration is determined to send the strongest message possible to China on Hong Kong. There is apparently already substantial agreement on language for the final communiqué on the need for all parties to live up to the 1984 joint agreement. But the issue will move more sharply into focus on Sunday morning when Madeleine Albright and Tony Blair will deliver a one, two punch on the Brinkley show. They are expected to address the recent rollbacks on democratic rights in the city and how precisely they will register their disapproval as the Chinese install their handpicked legislature. I have a special interest in this since my brother lives in Hong Kong and he will be watching with concern as the Brits roll up the Union Jack, sail off for the Falklands, and the People’s Liberation Army takes over community policing.
       Prozac alert. Boris Yeltsin is apparently going to set the summit mood tonight with an opening speech to his fellow leaders and will reportedly regale them with the details of the impact on Russia of the transition to a market economy. If that’s not cheery enough, the dinner topic will be Bosnia–specifically, the “the nonmilitary parts of the peace process”–that means war criminals and the fading dream of peaceful multicultural coexistence.
       We have news! Thank goodness for the Japanese, who are objecting to Russia’s accession into the G-7. Prime Minister Hashimoto seems determined to keep Yeltsin out of financial and economic meetings and will insist on raising the issue of the Kurile Islands–seized by the Red Army in 1945. There also appears to be some disagreement over how much monitoring by the U.S. of Japanese deregulation was agreed to in yesterday’s joint statement on the issue. These are clearly people who understand how to compete with Tim McVeigh and JonBenet. Perhaps they’re planning to revive their economy by launching a massive news export operation. Nissan Pathfinder versus Time’s Pathfinder. They could buy the Globe and offer a $500,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic.
       I may decide to rename this the Oakland Summit–except so far there hasn’t really even been a there to not be there. The most tangible manifestation of the existence of the event is the media center housed in the cavernous downtown convention center. There are smiling volunteers, free coffee, backdrops for TV standups of cuddly stuffed mammals that presumably represent the essence of Colorado fauna. It’s everything that you would expect at a media center–except news and reporters.
       The foreign media operation is run by the doomed United States Information Agency, which is to be merged into the State Department over the next couple of years. The merger has been a pet demand of Jesse Helms who everyone knows is less interested in reinventing foreign affairs than deep-sixing it. The Beltway argument on the future of the agency has completely missed the point–a philosophical brawl over independence versus integration that overlooks the question that the corporate world asks in these situations: Does it deliver? The fact is that the USIA does a good job here, its officer corps patiently spending hour after hour doing everything from setting up tours of the local sites to getting answers to faintly irrelevant questions posed by stringers for Kazak ecology magazines. By contrast, State Department diplomats are often terrible with the press–uptight and defensive or condescending and dismissive. And the campaign trail is where most of the political appointees who dominate the State Department and White House press offices cut their teeth, and where foreign reporters, for obvious reasons, tend to get fairly short shrift. I should add that USIA embraced the Internet early and well and, whether because of their comparatively tight-knit and unbureacratic culture or just dumb luck, they consistently produce the best and most up-to-date government Web sites–including the one here at the summit.
       They held the media party at the local shopping mall because, in the immortal words of general manager Nick LeMasters, “Shopping is the most popular activity for international tourists.” No one was shopping last night, even though all the stores were open. The few journalists that were there (it was mainly summit volunteers–who wants to go to a party to which you’re actually invited without having to wangle an invitation) were knocking back the free Coors and standing in line to have their pictures taken with the Hooters Girls. Meanwhile, outside Neiman Marcus and in front of a large mock-up of the White House, a big band combo was playing “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” Subtle is the Lord.
       The British reporters were vaguely abuzz with the fact that William Hague, 36, was elected leader of the British Conservative Party yesterday in a surprise upset and with critical last-minute backing from Margaret Thatcher. Hague has been an iron minion ever since he became the youngest person to speak at a Tory Party convention while the Tories were still in opposition. I was the next-youngest to address the conference a couple of years later. Alas, I learned a harsh rule of politics–there’s no such thing as finishing second. The only consolation is that Hague has less hair than me and given his party’s current predicament, he’ll have none at all and be very old if he ever gets to be prime minister.