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The G7 Hiroshima Summit Offers a New Era of Japanese Internationalism

Tristen Naylor, University of Cambridge
May 20, 2023

The coronation of a new Emperor four years ago ushered in Japan's Reiwa Era, during which Japan has so far forged a new internationalist posture – increasing its defence capabilities, diplomacy assets and capacity for substantive global leadership. The G7 summit in Hiroshima, hosted by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on May 19–21, 2023, has the potential to be a milestone in Japan's evolving global position as a moment for Japan to leverage its diplomatic strengths and unique geopolitical position to lead more actively and consequentially on the world's stage.

The war in Ukraine is dominating the G7's discussion this weekend, having already been the focus of the first day's meetings, producing 80 commitments including further sanctions on Russia, strengthening existing sanctions and a robust commitment to provide the material, economic and military support Ukraine needs to win the war.

While these commitments are important, what is key for changing the strategic landscape is bringing others onside, particularly India, whose prime minister, Narendra Modi, has maintained an ambivalent position on the conflict. While Modi has told Russian president Vladimir Putin that "today's era is not the era for war," he has nonetheless increased the purchase of Russian oil and declared India's friendship with Russia to be "unbreakable."

Having invited Modi as a guest to the summit, Kishida met with Modi early this morning. The leaders stressed the importance of upholding the principles of the United Nations Charter, including sovereignty and territorial integrity, namely that unilateral change of the status quo by force must not be tolerated anywhere in the world. They also stressed the importance of maintaining a free and open international order based on the rule of law.

This meeting can be seen as an opening move this week for Kishida to bring Modi into the fold and dampen Putin's war machine. With Modi set to host the G20 in New Delhi in a few months' time, the discussions here at the G7 could position Modi to use his G20 summit to set the conditions for peace.

It is not just the timing of the Hiroshima Summit that presents such an opportunity to change the strategic balance in Ukraine, but also this moment in Japanese foreign policy. Kishida welcomes his G7 counterparts at a time when Japan's global reputation and diplomatic capabilities are in peak condition. While post-war Japanese foreign policy has been guided by the principle of quietly building international economic links, contributing to global development efforts, and not rocking the boat geopolitically, in recent years Japan has responded to the growing challenges to the rules-based international order by increasing investments in both its hard and soft power assets. Indeed, Kishida greeting British prime minister Rishi Sunak just before the summit aboard the JS Izumo, Japan's aircraft carrier, symbolically marked a new posture for Japan internationally, departing significantly from its demure post-war foreign policy.  

The Hiroshima Summit is thus an opportunity for Japan to leverage its growing diplomatic heft and pivot from being simply a major economic player to a critical global power that can shape the agenda and marshal disparate actors for collaboration. Doing so will require more effective outreach to the so-called Global South – something western powers have failed to do in their efforts to isolate Russia. Japan's experience of building strong partnerships over decades with Southeast Asian states provides a blueprint for wider outreach to the developing world.

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Tristen Naylor is a lecturer in international politics and history at the University of Cambridge and deputy director of the G20 and G7 Research Groups London. An expert in international diplomacy, his most recent book provides a new history of the G7 and G20 summits. He was previously a fellow in international relations at the London School of Economics and the lecturer in diplomatic studies at the University of Oxford. He served as a foreign policy adviser to the Government of Canada. He is a recipient of the Canadian Public Service Award of Excellence.

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