Reflections on the G7 Hiroshima Summit
Takako’s Take Vol 6
The G7 Hiroshima summit had a feel of “everyone from everywhere, all at once”. For sure, the Japanese government pulled off an amazing logistical feat, even with the surprise guest at the end. The “everyone from everywhere” ness had the effect of highlighting who were NOT there and why, without naming who. The meeting consisted of not only the G7 leaders and representatives from the European Council and European Commission, but also leaders from the invited countries, including Australia, Brazil, India (G20 President), the Republic of Korea, Viet Nam, Indonesia (representing ASEAN Chair), Cook Islands (representing Pacific Islands Forum), and Comoros (African Union Chair). This is obviously not “everyone,” but was indicative of the Kishida government’s desire to make the G7 to be not just about the G7. In other words, the goal was not just to show solidarity among G7 countries to uphold the rule-based order, but also to reach out to the so-called “Global South” countries and to work together to build a better future for all people.
Hosting the G7 summit in his hometown, Hiroshima, was a “dream come true” for Kishida, to put forth his personal mission as a politician, to aspire for a nuclear-free world. His speech suggested that he may have had the ambition to be a prime minister to host a summit meeting in Hiroshima, from the time he was foreign minister under Abe. He hosted the G7 Foreign Minister’s meeting and welcomed President Obama to Hiroshima in 2016, where Obama made a memorable speech, emphasizing the responsibility to choose “a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.” Given the worsening security environment, the choice has become difficult. But hosting the summit in Hiroshima this year was a perfect reminder of the choice and to instill a stronger sense of urgency among leaders from around the world.
Kishida’s emotions came out most prominently in his closing speech when he talked about how the Hiroshima Peace Memorial was designed. He talked about how the architect Tange Kenzo designed the Peace Memorial and the Museum so that a straight line will be drawn from the Atomic Bomb Dome to the two buildings. He highlighted the overlap with the path taken by Japan, from the ashes of the war to peace and prosperity. This path also seemed to suggest his own path, mission, and goal as a politician. While acknowledging the difficulty of simultaneously pursuing the “two responsibilities as leaders: to protect our citizens, to seek a nuclear-free world”, he argued empathetically that having an ideal is different from having a dream, and called out that “we are now all citizens of Hiroshima”
Some have argued that Zelenskyy stole the show. That may be true, but it was not a bad thing for Kishida. First, the presence of Zelenskyy, a leader of a country that is currently under threat of a nuclear attack, highlighted the significance and relevance of Hiroshima today. Second, the significance of the meeting itself was amplified and led to more coverage both domestically and abroad, (although the expected boost in Kishida’s approval rating was somewhat muted due to negative news about his family). Third and most importantly, Zelenskyy’s presence led to more focus on Russia rather than China. This may have had the effect of uniting G7 countries and invitee countries. Some of them may have been uncomfortable joining the group photo with Zelenskyy. Still, standing against a country that “unilaterally changed the status quo by force” is easier than standing against a country with a more complex, nuanced set of relationships with stronger economic ties. It is notable that the reference to China in the communique was less confrontational, emphasizing de-risking not decoupling, and calling for responsible action by China, noting that “a growing China that plays by international rules would be of global interest.”
One possible downside of the Zelenskyy effect was less focus on the Indo-Pacific. However, President Biden’s decision not to travel to Sydney for the Quad meeting may have had more to do with this. It was still significant that the meeting of the four Quad leaders did take place in Hiroshima, and that a joint statement was announced. Still, a more conscious effort to bring the momentum back to the Quad is necessary. (Please see my Project Syndicate article, alongside ASPI fellows Danny Russel (US), Richard Maude (Australia), and Raja Mohan (India) for a discussion about the Quad.)
What is next for Japan? Once the summit was over, attention quickly shifted from diplomacy to domestic politics, whether or not Kishida will call for an election soon. However, Japan’s chairmanship in the G7 continues until the end of 2023, and there is more to be done. For starters, Japan needs to follow up on what it has promised to do for Ukraine. In his press conference, Zelenskyy said “Hiroshima is a rebuilt city now. And we dream of rebuilding all of our cities that are now in ruins, and every village where not a single house is left intact after Russian strikes.” Last April I wrote in Foreign Affairs Online that the G7 Hiroshima summit should take place at a perfect moment for Japan to take the initiative for Ukraine’s reconstruction. Unfortunately, we are not at that moment yet, and for now, Japan has committed to a $7.6 billion package of financial assistance; medical treatment of Ukrainian servicemen in Japan, and 100 SDF vehicles to be sent to Ukraine. Japan has also promised to support the Global Summit on the implementation of the Ukrainian Peace Formula and to invest in Ukraine in the development of hydrogen, lithium batteries, automobiles, overpasses, and railways.
But the G7 summit was never just about Ukraine or Zelenskyy. Japan needs to continue to play a leading role to transform the G7 framework to be much more than just the G7 countries. The Hiroshima summit should be remembered as one that reminded us of the dangers of nuclear destruction and the responsibilities of the current generation, as well as the importance of “everyone” coming together for a common future.
Note: For my discussion about the G7 Hiroshima summit with NHK’s Aki Shibuya, please watch the program from the link below: