AS host to this year's G-7 summit, Japan has tried to set an agenda to keep this club of rich nations in the world spotlight.
The annual summits, which include the heads of seven industrialized nations, have lost much of their aura and substance since the end of the cold war, analysts say.
Each nation has become absorbed in recent economic woes, especially a need for jobs, while the leaders find less and less common ground on political issues without the threat of the former Soviet Union. (Russia seeks help from the G-7, Page 8.)
The Group of Seven (G-7) forum, which was started in 1975 to coordinate policies in a new global economy after the first oil crisis, took on security and political issues in the 1980s.
In this summit, Japan hopes to restore economic issues as paramount but is trying to deflect a move by the United States that would force Japan to deal with its huge trade surplus.
The G-7 consists of Japan, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, and the United States, and each nation takes turns as host. The Tokyo meeting runs from July 7 to 9.
Adding to the summit's lackluster image this year is the fact that most G-7 leaders are flagging in popularity or are fresh into office. Japan's prime minister is considered a lame duck after losing a no-confidence vote.
An effort by Japan's top officials to inject eye-catching issues, such as weapons proliferation, into the 1993 summit reflect an ambition to use the forum to gain diplomatic influence to match Japan's economic might.
"As neither Japan nor Germany is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council," says former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, "the G-7 summit should be reinforced to make up for this deficiency."
The fact that Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Indonesian President Suharto, and a range of special-interest and regional groups have pleaded to attend shows that the G-7 still can attract attention.
This year, Japan championed the attendance of Mr. Suharto, whose country is the fifth most populated in the world. Japan sees itself as not only a spokesman for other Asian nations within the G-7 but tries to act on behalf of poor nations as well.
But other G-7 members were cool to the idea. Instead Suharto arrived in Tokyo just before the summit and is scheduled to meet President Clinton today. Mr. Yeltsin will meet with the group.
"The seven-nation summit is now an important international institution for a newly emerging world order," says Mr. Nakasone, who served as prime minister from 1982 to 1987 and attended or hosted four G-7 summits.
The G-7 can eventually coordinate actions with China and Russia, he says, to shape "a world current." UN alternative
Japan has wavered in whether it sees the G-7 or the UN as its place for leadership. Much depends on whether it can win a permanent seat on the Security Council by 1995, the 50th anniversary of the organization and a year when a revamp of the UN Charter may take place.
Japan has become the largest UN donor and has courted developing nations to win support in the international body.
"For Japan, the United Nations provides an excellent framework for moving toward the goal of becoming a normal member of the community nations," says Japanese politician Takujiro Hamada. "Like many other countries, Japan is in the difficult process of defining a new international role itself in the post-cold-war world," he says. "We feel strongly this role should reflect Japan's leading position among the world's economies."
But Japan's UN role remains uncertain. For two years after the Gulf war, the country agonized over whether to send troops on UN peacekeeping missions. A new law limits the scope of Japanese soldiers in the UN to non-combat roles.
While Washington supports Tokyo's desire for a permanent seat on the Council, it falls short of advocating a right of veto for Japan. Only the US, China, Russia, France, and Britain now hold that right.
To win a permanent seat, Japan may need to change its postwar "peace" constitution to allow it to have a combat role in UN forces. But many Japanese leaders, including Mr. Miyazawa, oppose the idea. UN recommendations
In preparing the G-7 summit proclamation, Japan has included recommendations to the UN on how to deal with various crises, such as in Bosnia and Somalia, and with the problem of nuclear proliferation.
The group will also try, as it has in recent years, to commit itself to a quick finish to the Uruguay Round of world trade talks.
Statements from previous summits have often done little to shape events, leading British Prime Minister John Major to suggest the summits may be unnecessary. Japan hopes to prove otherwise. "G-7 summits offer a rare and important opportunity for Japan," states Japanese commentator Itaru Aiso, "to demonstrate its existence."