Leaders of the Group of Seven countries, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, are arriving in the Japanese city of Hiroshima this week for a two-day summit expected to be dominated by two issues: Russia’s war in Ukraine, and China.
There is little disagreement on either subject within the G7, but considerable space between member states and other countries that will be attending the Hiroshima meetings as part of Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio’s outreach to what is called the “Global South.”
Writing in The Globe and Mail on Thursday, Mr. Kishida said: “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has caused major harm to lives around the world, particularly in developing countries.
“Building trust with these countries requires that we intensify our efforts to listen to and address their concerns,” he added. “The challenges of the international community cannot be solved without co-operation with these countries.”
Mr. Kishida has invited eight guest countries to join this weekend’s summit, including India and Brazil, which, along with China, Russia and South Africa, form the BRICS bloc; it has emerged reinvigorated this year after dwindling in influence. Both New Delhi and Brasilia have maintained a supposedly neutral posture in the Ukraine war, continuing to trade with Russia, hampering G7-led sanctions against the Kremlin.
A communiqué currently being hashed out by G7 representatives is expected to say members will counter any attempt to evade sanctions. China and South Africa have both been accused of providing military equipment to Russia, which is struggling to replenish supplies after 15 months of brutal conflict.
“The ‘Global South’ part of the G7 summit is tricky,” said James Brown, a professor of political science at Temple University in Tokyo. “This begins with the name. The Kishida government chose to use this term but many dislike it. Some see it as meaningless since it lumps together such diverse countries. Others see the label as condescending.”
Given neither Brazil nor India has “supported the G7′s efforts to isolate Russia,” Dr. Brown said talks with those countries will likely “soft pedal on geopolitical matters” and instead focus on tackling issues such as food prices.
For his part, Mr. Kishida said G7 members and guests will “address a wide range of global issues,” including the situation in Ukraine; economic resilience and economic security; nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation; food and energy security; and climate change.
Another key topic will be China – both Russia’s most important ally and the biggest challenge to what Japan describes as “the free and open international order based on the rule of law.”
On this issue, there is broad alignment within the G7 but not complete agreement. Some members, particularly France, want to take a softer approach toward Beijing, encouraging Chinese President Xi Jinping’s purported desire to be a peacemaker in Ukraine and downplaying tensions over the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which China claims and has vowed to seize by force if necessary.
Since 2021, G7 communiqués have included language about ensuring “peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” something spearheaded by Japan, which fears being dragged into a war over the island and has, under Mr. Kishida, launched a massive militarization drive to prepare for potential conflict.
This is in contrast to French President Emmanuel Macron, who, after a visit to Beijing earlier this year, suggested European countries should not be “caught up in conflicts which are not ours” – comments that did not go down well in Washington or Tokyo, which have invested heavily in a conflict on Europe’s doorstep and far from their own.
Canada is more in line with Japan, with Ottawa’s Indo-Pacific strategy, released last year, identifying Beijing as an “increasingly disruptive global power” and vowing to “push back against any unilateral actions that threaten the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.”
Of all G7 members, Canada also has likely the worst relations with Beijing at present, though not particularly by Ottawa’s design. Continued fallout from the detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, as well as more recent revelations of Chinese interference in Canadian politics, have resulted in a major chill in ties, with both countries this month expelling a diplomat from the other.
As the G7 meets in Hiroshima, Beijing is staging its own summit in the central Chinese city of Xi’an, attended by Mr. Xi and five leaders from Central Asia, where China has massively increased its influence as Russia focuses on Ukraine. Last year, trade between China and Central Asia hit a record high of US$70-billion, according to Chinese statistics, an increase of 40 per cent over the previous year.
“Beijing wants to promote a new alternative to the global order and try to persuade the Central Asian region that this new global order is better for them, too,” said Adina Masalbekova, a research fellow at the OSCE Academy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
This is something that concerns Mr. Kishida and is driving his efforts to reach out to developing countries. In an interview with Nikkei, a Japanese newspaper, he said it was the G7, not Beijing or Moscow, that truly stands with smaller states.
He said there was need for “an approach that respects diversity,” adding no country should be allowed “to impose its political system on others.”
With a report from Reuters.