G7 Summit: Did Japan achieve its goals?

Mohammed Ibrahim Eldesouki
Tuesday 23 May 2023

When it comes to decision-making in Japan, there is no room for chance or hasty, rash decisions. Everything is carefully measured and subject to review at multiple levels, considering alternatives and available options that can achieve the desired goals.


Therefore, this process takes a long time and is characterized by extreme caution and mindfulness.

This was evident during Japan's hosting of the Group of Seven (G7) summit in the city of Hiroshima from 19 to 21 May. The choice of the summit's location, associated with what the government of Fumio Kishida has defined as its objectives, served two purposes: satisfying the aspirations of the domestic public opinion and those of the gathered leaders on its territory.
We can identify the three main objectives of Japan from this important event. 

First, it is to highlight its role as a peacemaker on the international stage. Second, it is to warn the world about the trap of "nuclear terror." Third, it is to send a message of power and a threat to China, which has been persistently flexing its military muscles in the east and South China Sea and the Pacific region. The third objective also includes the troublesome and defiant neighbour, North Korea, which continues to intentionally annoy Tokyo with its ongoing missile tests, turning the confrontation into a collective one with its allies.

Therefore, it is reasonable, after hours of the issuance of the final statement of the G7 summit, to raise a logical question about what Tokyo has achieved regarding its aforementioned three objectives. It is undeniable that Japan succeeded in representing Hiroshima as the most significant site to demonstrate the dangers resulting from the proliferation of nuclear weapons, as it was the testing ground for the atomic bomb at the end of World War II, claiming the lives of about 140,000 people in the city.

Japan effectively utilized this representation to indicate the looming danger of a potential repetition and the possibility of witnessing further horrors caused by deadly nuclear weapons. This was hinted at by Russia's direct involvement in using such weapons to settle the ongoing war in Ukraine, countering American and Western support for Kyiv by supplying it with advanced ammunition, missile defenses, tanks, and more.

In addition, there is concern about the North Korean regime, which possesses highly advanced nuclear and missile capabilities that it could resort to in a moment of anger and provocation during military exercises involving the US, Japan, and South Korea, considering itself the target of those exercises. China, in turn, possesses nuclear weapons and constantly warns against Western and regional interference in Taiwan, which it sees as a rebellious part of its territory. This means that the use of nuclear weapons is on the table, whenever it deems it necessary.

However, aside from this representation, Japan is navigating through a minefield. It is divided between two things: its idyllic dreams of a world free from nuclear weapons and the realities of its existence, making it difficult to draw a roadmap that reconciles both. The summit's statement settled for general, repetitive, and flexible phrases about the need to rid planet Earth of nuclear weapons and to limit their proliferation.

In addition to Tokyo's reliance on the American nuclear umbrella, the G7 countries possess massive nuclear arsenals which they will not easily abandon. These nuclear weapons serve as a formidable deterrent under their control. The host country itself possesses nuclear capabilities and technology, as well as several nuclear reactors used for peaceful purposes such as electricity generation. It has not signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. In our world today, there are 12,500 nuclear warheads, far exceeding the destructive power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, called, "Little Boy."
Regarding China, Hiroshima is located 1,000 miles from the Chinese capital, Beijing, making it within reach, metaphorically speaking. It is not far from the grasp of the seven major powers that fear and are concerned about China's growing economic, military, and political ascendancy. They wish to impede its progress in any way possible.

Beijing perceives the summit and its final statement as an unacceptable interference, particularly due to its discussion of Taiwan and attempts to demonize and tarnish China's image. Consequently, China summoned the Japanese ambassador to express a strong protest against the statement's content.

However, both Japan and the other participants know well that competing with China is a long and extended journey. Both sides will continue exchanging blows and striving to gain new spheres of influence, expanding their presence in different regions of the world. Containing a country as large and as capable as China is no easy task.

Tokyo recognizes the limits of its conflict with China, which is fundamentally rooted in their historical relations dating back hundreds of years. Thus, Japan seeks to safeguard its national security by enhancing and developing its military capabilities. This led to an increase in its military budget, making it the third-largest budget after the US and China.
Japan maintains its military relations with its ally, the US, and its deployed forces in Japanese prefectures, with a total strength of approximately 50,000 soldiers, mostly stationed on the southernmost island of Okinawa.

At the same time, it prefers not to play an exaggerated role in its relationship with China, preserving their vital economic and investment interests.
The latest available data shows that Japan's exports to China amounted to $144 billion last year, while Chinese exports to the Japanese markets reached $193 billion. During the first quarter of the current year, the bilateral trade between the two countries amounted to $12 billion. These figures speak for themselves, and both countries engage in a game of push and pull without leaving matters to get to the brink. They consider this in their current and future calculations, understanding the intended message from the G7 summit within its context, circumstances, and objectives.

Moving on to the third objective, which revolves around North Korea's troubles, it was clear that its continued spread of instability and security threats in Northeast Asia would be met with a strong and comprehensive response from the G7 countries.

Tokyo, in turn, is keen on confronting Pyongyang and its actions collectively. This was evident in the outcome of the summit, as Japan has taken the necessary measures to protect its airspace and cities from North Korean missiles. It understands that North Korea's threats to Japan and the southern part of the Korean Peninsula are driven by China and Russia.

Despite the apparent differences with Washington, both Beijing and Moscow have intensified their stance since the outbreak of the Russo-Ukrainian war, including their positions on the Taiwan issue. The two capitals coordinate their positions, serving their common interests, which lie in challenging the US and not allowing it to maintain its influence in Japan and South Korea. They view North Korea as the ideal troublemaker to play this role.

It is not a secret that the key to tranquility and movement in Pyongyang lies in Beijing, the first and most important ally of the northern part of the Korean Peninsula and its main gateway to the outside world. It has managed to overcome the international economic and financial sanctions imposed on it, with Moscow being its second ally. Therefore, the dimensions of the confrontations are known and preserved. Japan has chosen its camp next to the US, and this choice has its consequences and the prices that must be willingly paid, including those coming from North Korea. 

In conclusion, Japan has achieved a considerable portion of its goals from the G7 summit and feels satisfied with that. On the other hand, it fortifies itself by maintaining a conscious and up-to-date understanding of the conflicts emerging on the international stage and by consistently maintaining its influence in the balance of power in the Asian continent, thanks to its possession of the elements and components of power in all aspects.


* The writer is an Egyptian journalist and expert on Japanese and East Asian politics.

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