The G-8 summit closed here yesterday as a tale of two views, with
the leaders of the world's wealthiest nations hailing their focus on
technology for developing nations, yet critics warning that debt
relief is being given short shrift.
The eight leaders promised to implement a wide range of
initiatives to assist developing countries: from fighting infectious
diseases, to ensuring universal education for children, to training
a corps of Information Technology experts who can help narrow the
But critics who have rallied around an international call to
forgive the debts of impoverished countries say that the answer they
heard may as well have been: "Let them eat silicon chips."
"People can't eat laptops, and an Internet connection is not
going to get malaria dealt with," says Adrian Lovett, Britain's
deputy director of Jubilee 2000, a star-studded, international
coalition of groups lobbying for debt forgiveness in the millennial
year. In 1999, the G-8 leaders agreed to work on speeding up debt
relief. But so far, only nine developing countries have qualified -
out of the 52 which Jubilee 2000 says owe far more than they can
"All we got this weekend is a repeat of the promises of last
year," says Mr. Lovett. "They're dealing with other issues, and
that's good, but they're leapfrogging the debt issue."
Jubilee 2000 and other aid organizations had been hoping that the
summit leaders would arrive at a new proposal for addressing the
developing world's debt burden, rather than essentially reiterating
their intention to carry out last year's plan.
Nonetheless, the summit - historically dedicated to discussing
the health of the participants' economies - was directed as never
before to what the seven major industrialized nations plus Russia
can do to spread the wealth and health to those missing out on
advances in both. Less than 5 percent of the computers that are
connected to the Internet are in developing countries, according to
Nua Internet Surveys. In Japan - the sponsor of the summit - the
average life expectancy is nearly three times that of Sierra Leone.
"This is the first time, at least in my experience ... that there
has been a systematic focus on the developing world ... and on the
digital divide and education," President Clinton said after a
meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, as the two briefed
reporters in the swampy heat of an oceanfront hotel lobby, its doors
thrown wide open to the clamor of cicadas in the trees outside. Mr.
Clinton applauded Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori - who has
been suffering from low popularity ratings and an image as a
technologically challenged premier - for ushering those issues to
the top of his agenda.
Others here described the landmark attention to developing
nations as a reaction to the jolt leaders got at last December's
World Trade Organization talks in Seattle. There, angry protesters
took control of the streets and prevented negotiators from reaching
their meetings. This time, in a first, a selection of leaders of
developing countries demanded and won an audience with the some of
the G-8 leaders before the summit began on Friday.
The G-8 leaders agreed on an "Okinawa Charter on Global
Information Society" that promises to nurture both the human
resources and the hardware to speed the Internet's arrival in
countries that remain virtually untouched by it. …