HOUSTON — A LOT of ringing language about democracy and freedom and free-market prosperity was used at the Economic Summit here this week. There was perhaps more real meaning in the rhetoric than at any of the previous 15 summits of the leaders of the seven largest industrial democracies. This summit was troubled by the need to deal with farm subsidies in an effort to keep the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations on track. But mostly the leaders showed excitement over shaping a post-Marxist world.
Political rhetoric is often generous with hyperbole. Yet the summiteers this year clearly felt they were participating in a moment of historic change.
At the opening ceremony July 9, for example, President Bush exclaimed: ``A new world of freedom lies before us; hopeful, confident; a world where peace endures, where commerce has conscience, and where all that seems possible is possible.''
In a closing political communiqu'e, the Seven - the United States, Japan, West Germany, Britain, Canada, France, and Italy - declared: ``Europe is at the dawn of a new era. We welcome enthusiastically the profound and historic changes sweeping the continent.'' US Secretary of States James Baker III noted: ``The summit partners share the imperative of our time: to help promote and secure democracy around the world.'' Hence, they agreed unanimously on the need to support Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
``We welcome the intention of the Soviet Union to move toward a democratic political system, as well as Soviet attempts to reform their economy along market principles,'' stated the Seven in their first communiqu'e. ``We commit ourselves to working with the Soviet Union to assist its efforts to create an open society, a pluralistic democracy, and a market-oriented economy.''
The Seven instructed the International Monetary Fund to lead a joint study with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the World Bank, and the new European Bank for Reconstruction and Development on the needs of the Soviet economy and report by year-end.
``We are not looking at ways to delay,'' Canadian External Affairs Minister Joe Clark insisted. Rather, the leaders want to provide a ``quick, upbeat'' response to a letter from Mr. Gorbachev to President Bush asking for a ``sustained economic dialogue'' with the Seven.
West Germany will extend more than $3 billion in immediate credits to Moscow. The six others are expected to await the result of the study before deciding whether to provide financial aid to the Soviets. Another study of the economic situation in the Soviet Union has already been launched by the Commission of the 12-nation European Community. Further, Bush was asked to brief Gorbachev on summit results. These displays of support for a Soviet president would have been unthinkable a year ago.
Another dramatic change was the fall of the Berlin Wall. ``We applaud the unification of Germany, which is a tangible expression of mankind's inalienable right to self-determination and a major contributor to stability in Europe,'' the Seven said.
Other noticeable changes at the summit include:
The French allowed a statement on nonproliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Because France has not signed the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, it did not want such a statement at previous summits.
The Japanese came to the summit seeking the acquiescence of the six other summiteers to Tokyo's intention to provide yen credits to China, and got it. Observers say this was unusual. But the Seven agreed to retain their restraints on loans to China, with the exception of some World Bank loans ``that would contribute to reform of the Chinese economy.''
After the conversion of authoritarian regimes to democracies in Eastern Europe and in Latin America, the Seven have become bolder in promoting freedom. They called for greater tolerance as a cure for ethnic strife. They offered to provide assistance in drafting laws, fostering an independent media, establishing training programs in government, management, and technical fields, and developing people-to-people contacts.