16.04.2016 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Symbolic Meaning of G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Hiroshima


In mid-April, Hiroshima hosted a meeting of foreign ministers of the G7 nations as part of the preparation for the G7 summit. As was expected, the US Secretary of State along with the Foreign Ministers of Japan, Britain, Germany, Italy, Canada, and France were present along with the the current High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. The summit itself will open its doors in late May in the Japanese resort town of Ise-Shima on the southeast coast of Honshu.

As for the meeting in Hiroshima, it summoned high ranking diplomats to agree on an agenda for the future summit along with the nature of the documents that are to be signed during the main event. To make a long story short, we’ve witnessed a general rehearsal for a show that has little substance despite the fanfare. At the height of the Cold War, G7 was something like NATO, a geopolitical organization which opposed the “imminent threat of communism”, while today it’s just a relic of old days that serves no real purpose, much like NATO.

Back in 1997, Russia was allowed to become a member of G-8, which was clearly a gesture advaced by Washington to the Russian government of the time who behaved in the way the West wanted them to. But in 2014, the situation abruptly changed once Russia began taking action against the ongoing expansion of NATO in the immediate vicinity of its borders.

Today Washington is tactfully hinting that if certain conditions are to be observed, G7 can become G8 ones again. But at this point, Russia should be turning down any illusions of this nature. Not because it’s offended in any way, but due to the fact that membership in this “closed club” is hardly of real significance from a wider perspective. For sure, China is a member of G-7 but both India and Brazil are absent and those states play a clearly significant role in international politics, on par with the European members of G7 and Canada.

It’s often been stated that G7 is a club of “the most industrially developed countries”, but despite this, Scandinavian and Benelux are still not members. One could argue that their interests are being represented by the EU’s Federica Mogherini, but she can hardly represent even the national interests of Germany, let alone anyone else.

Today it’s clear that the Asian-Pacific region can be easily torn apart by various factors, despite Washington’s ongoing attempts to bind it together by a formal treaty. It’s clear that we’re witnessing dramatic differences in the positions of the United States and Japan towards the role China plays in today’s geopolitics.

So there’s little wonder that among various topics discussed in Hiroshima, special attention was paid to the deterioration of the situation in the South China Sea (SCS). In this region, the confrontation between leading players has become an issue of increasing urgence. The United States and Japan refuse to give China any breathing space, but Beijing tends to differ on that notion. China would strongly prefer to avoid the discussion of the situation in the SCS at the G7 meetings, but there’s no diplomatic move it could come up to do so.

Japan is gravely concerned with the recent developments in the region and as the host of the summit, and as a nation that is heavily supported by Washington in this matter, it can play by its own rules. The statement that was released after the talks in Hiroshima was full of time-tested formulas including the need to respect international law in order to ensure freedom of navigation and airspace. The statement also underlines that no “unilateral” use of military force can be allowed to resolve territorial disputes.

China has been virtually using the same words all along, but it wasn’t too happy about the joint statement being released after the meeting in Hiroshima, since it despises the idea that states from different parts of the world are becoming involved in a regional problem.

There’s little doubt that G7 members would discuss a number of hotspots that the US has created in the Middle East at the summit. Washington would gladly get China involved in those, but Chinese President Xi Jinping prefers to let the US face the consequences of its actions on its own.

What is much more interesting is the deep symbolism that lies behind the fact the meeting was held in Hiroshima, a city American officials refused to visit for years. The bilateral relations between the US and Japan couldn’t carry on with the US ignoring the most tragic episode of the Second World War, namely the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

There’s little doubt that once the myths that have surrounded the American decision to bomb Japan’s civil population with nuclear weapons are unveiled, turbulent American politics will be further affected  particularly during the ongoing presidential race in an unpredictable manner.

The fear to even discuss this topic in the US is what led to the fact that the US ambassador to Japan only finally visited for the first time in 2010, the peace memorial ceremony that is held annually in Hiroshima. This step was taken extremely cautiously and, therefore, did little to eliminate bilateral tensions between the US and Japan.

However, this tension could be eliminated if US President Barack Obama decide to visit Hiroshima personally. This possibility has been discussed in Washington recently, but to no avail. But now it’s safe to say that once John Kerry decided to visit the memorial in Hiroshima, Obama’s visit is likely soon to follow.

Obama, just like Kerry before him, won’t be visiting the memorial on his own, and instead, he would be accompanied by his G7 partners, but Japanese authorities would be content with even that. They don’t want to hear any speeches or apologies, they just want a senior US official to acknowledge their loss by visiting the site of their mourning. This step, if it is going to be made, will quite possibly be the only positive political legacy that Obama may leave behind as a President of the United States of America and will make bilateral relations between Tokyo and Washington ever more sound.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the Asia-Pacific region, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.” 

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