Ukrainian conflict overshadows G7 summit as president Zelensky visits
Efforts for the G7 Summit to make a greater commitment to nuclear disarmament, or “Hiroshima Vision”, was overshadowed by a visit from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as he lobbied for support in dealing with the Russian invasion of his country.
On Friday evening (local time), the leaders released a strongly worded six-page statement on Ukraine which reaffirmed their commitment “to stand together against Russia’s illegal, unjustifiable and unprovoked war of aggression” and condemned “Russia’s manifest violation of the Charter of the United Nations”.
Zelensky’s visit offered him a chance to meet with the leaders of countries like India, Brazil, Indonesia and others from the global south, who haven’t been as strong in their condemnation of Russia’s invasion.
Japanese PM Fumio Kishida had other goals for Hiroshima. He had spent the better part of a year making trips overseas to talk up his vision for the summit – greater support from the world’s largest economies for developing nations to ensure global economic security and his brand of “new capitalism”.
In March, he visited Poland and Ukraine, where he met with Zelensky. A month later, he visited Egypt, Ghana, Kenya and Mozambique. There were also stops in India, Singapore and South Korea.
The list of attendees at this year’s conference reflected this deeper focus on a “global south”: South Korea, Vietnam, Australia, India, Brazil, the Comoros (chair of the African Union), Cook Islands (chair of the Pacific Islands Forum) and Indonesia (chair of ASEAN).
Japan’s interest here partially in countering Chinese and Russian investment and influence in Africa and other parts of the Global South.
The G7 leaders’ final communique reflected this, with a significant focus on African security and a specific mention of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group.
QUAD MEETING REBRANDED?
Australia had viewed the summit as a prelude to the Quad leaders meeting scheduled for Sydney this week but after US President Joe Biden cancelled the Australia leg of his trip to deal with the budgetary deadlock at home, a meeting of the four member countries was hastily arranged in Japan.
Although it was quite short, the meeting provided the necessary optics – the four leaders still prioritising their shared goals of working together to exert pressure on China’s regional ambitions.
The Quad leaders discussed ways to be less reliant on China and how to counter the superpower’s influence.
Despite Fumio Kishida hosting the G7, the Japanese Prime Minister insisted Prime Minister Anthony Albanese chair the Quad meeting.
Their discussions reportedly reached agreement on such issues as the security of submarine cables, infrastructure and engineer training.
Australia also signed an agreement with the United States around climate change and the so-called ‘clean energy transformation’ as PM Albanese labelled the US “our most important relationship”.
“We appreciate the alliance as our most important relationship,” Mr Albanese said in a media conference.
The Quad, like the AUKUS security arrangement between the US, UK and Australia remains something of an anomaly in a region already rich in security arrangements. It is seen by some as exclusionary, perhaps contributing to rising tensions in the region, rather than diminishing them.
The meeting on the sidelines this time may well serve to turn down the gauge, just a little, in the regional security environment.
When Japan last hosted the G7 in 2016, Kishida, then foreign minister, persuaded US President Barack Obama to make a quick visit to Hiroshima, the first serving US president to do so.
Inevitably, at each G7 Summit, there are calls for a review of its purpose.
Originally an “informal” grouping of the world’s leading economies, it has become, like the UN Security Council, an institution of a different time. It is somewhat of an anachronism, no longer representative of today’s global economy.
Kishida obviously had great ambitions for this version of the summit. In his press conference on Sunday, Kishida reiterated his reasons for gathering world leaders in Hiroshima – to emphasise the importance of pursuing peace.
As for the ageing hibakusha, the survivors of the 1945 atomic bomb blast in Hiroshima, this may have been their last major opportunity to press for an end to nuclear weapons.