TOKYO: Successfully holding this year’s Group of Seven summit in the city of Hiroshima is the biggest goal for Japanese Prime Minister KISHIDA Fumio on the diplomatic front this year.
As the international order continues to be shaken by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which started last February, Kishida’s leadership as the chair of the Hiroshima summit among the seven major powers–Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States–plus the European Union is set to be tested. Hiroshima, western Japan, includes Kishida’s constituency for the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of the Diet, Japan’s parliament.
Also being closely watched is whether Kishida will be able to boost momentum for dialogue with China and South Korea and set the stage for Japan to mend fences with the two neighbors.
Eager to Make Hiroshima Summit Political Legacy
“The G7 was once said to be outmoded, but is now one of the only few international frameworks that are working in the current era of confusion,” Kishida said in a speech in Tokyo on Dec. 26, underlining the importance of the G7.
Later this month, Kishida is expected to visit Britain, Italy and France to build a relationship of trust with leaders of the three European members of the G7 in the run-up to the Hiroshima summit.
Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, leaders and other officials of the G7 countries have been ramping up communication, including through virtual meetings.
At the May 19-21 face-to-face summit in Hiroshima, Kishida is expected to underscore afresh that unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force should never be permitted.
Kishida will also work to help the G7 leaders share the recognition on the situation in East Asia, keeping in mind China, which is stepping up hegemonic activities.
“We hope to turn the G7’s attention to the Indo-Pacific region, so we want to emphasize the significance of the international order including Taiwan,” a Japanese government official said of the host country’s target at the forthcoming summit.
Kishida made all-out efforts to have Hiroshima, which was devastated by the Aug. 6, 1945, US atomic bombing in the closing days of World War II, host the summit.
He views the Hiroshima summit as a perfect opportunity to issue a unified G7 message for realizing a world without nuclear weapons, which is his lifework. Kishida apparently hopes to make it his political legacy, informed sources said.
Kishida has said, “We will send a clear message from Hiroshima to remind (the international community) again of the ideal to aim for a nuclear-free world.
At issue here is how Kishida will boost momentum for the abolition of nuclear weapons toward the G7 summit while Russia is threatening to use such weapons in its war on Ukraine, pundits said.
In early August 2022, some of China’s ballistic missiles launched as part of its large-scale military drills conducted around Taiwan fell into waters inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
Amid growing tensions between China and Taiwan, the Japanese public are believed to be increasingly concerned over China.
In this regard, Kishida has said, “Japan will say what it needs to say (to China) and ask (the country) to act responsibly while continuing bilateral dialogue, including on pending issues.”
Kishida met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Bangkok last November, which was the first Japan-China summit in about three years. Talks are underway to arrange a visit to China by Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi this year.
Kishida hopes to seek China’s restraint through dialogue on Chinese government ships’ intrusion into Japanese waters around the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, southern Japan, and military pressure against Taiwan.
But China has shown no signs of making concessions over these issues, which serves as a hurdle for improving relations between Tokyo and Beijing.
Meanwhile, Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol at their meeting last November affirmed a policy of working to find a solution early to the issue of Koreans who were requisition to work for Japanese firms during World War II.
With the Japanese side basically waiting to see South Korea’s efforts to deal with the matter, however, it remains to be seen if the Kishida-Yoon agreement will help make tangible progress.
The Kishida administration is increasingly alert for North Korea’s growing military provocations, such as its repeated ballistic missile launches. There is speculation that the reclusive country will conduct a nuclear test shortly.
Following the Japanese government’s revision of its three key national security documents late last year, Japan and the United States are poised to advance talks on strengthening their deterrence and response capabilities.
In mid-January, Kishida is expected to visit Washington for the first time since taking office in October 2021 to meet with US President Joe Biden.