The Group of Seven foreign ministers concluded a historic two-day meeting in Hiroshima on Monday that saw them discuss the goal of global nuclear disarmament in the first city destroyed by an atomic bomb.
The meeting was a victory for the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which were A-bombed just days apart toward the end of the war in August 1945, and a feather in the cap of Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who is rumored to want Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s job.
Kishida’s success in bringing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to Hiroshima may pave the way for a similar visit by President Barack Obama when the G-7 summit is held in Mie Prefecture next month.
The meeting ended with Kishida’s adoption of a joint communique, a Hiroshima Declaration and two other statements on maritime security and nonproliferation. The four statements reflect global concerns including terrorism, North Korea’s escalating provocations, maritime security in the South China Sea and the G-7 members’ commitment to work toward a world without nuclear weapons.
The adoption of the Hiroshima Declaration is especially symbolic for Hiroshima and Nagasaki at a time when global momentum for getting rid of the world’s nuclear arsenals is low, especially after the collapse of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference last year.
“This is the first time for the G-7 countries to get together to unanimously adopt a statement on nuclear disarmament after the NPT Review Conference, which I think is significant and will revive the momentum for disarmament,” Kishida said at the concluding news conference.
The foreign ministers not only experienced what Kishida calls “the reality of the atomic bomb” by visiting Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and the Atomic Bomb Dome, but also offered floral tributes at the cenotaph in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.
“Going through this museum was a reminder of the indisputable truth that war must never be the first resort. It must be the last resort, the utter failure of all diplomacy,” said Kerry, who became the first sitting U.S. secretary of state to visit an A-bomb site. “It was a reminder for all of us why these meetings and relationships matter so much. The peaceful, stable international systems we’ve built in the decades since World War II are not a given, not automatic.”
The much-expected Hiroshima Declaration, which said the G-7 countries “share the deep desire of the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that nuclear weapons never be used again,” reflects Kishida’s so-called five principles, the five pillars of the speech he made at the NPT Review Conference last April at the United Nations.
The principle includes transparency of nuclear force, deeper reduction of all types of nuclear weapons, common recognition of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, and the visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki by political leaders and youths.
The statement emphasizes the importance of the NPT, called for a ban on nuclear test explosions, and demands that all states “sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty without delay and conditions,” although the U.S. itself has not yet done so.
“We welcome the efforts taken by the nuclear-weapon States in the G-7 that have enhanced transparency,” the statement said.
The statement was a step forward in that they included the part that encouraged “political leaders” like the G-7 foreign ministers and “other visitors” to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This was a proposal made by Japan last year at the NPT Review Conference that was removed from the statement due to staunch opposition from China.
Yet the reactions as to how the statement describes the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were divided. While the Hiroshima Declaration says those cities “experienced immense devastation and human suffering as a consequence of the atomic bombings,” it does not mention “humanitarian consequences,” one of the Kishida principles. But Japanese government officials stressed the wording was stronger than the Kishida principles.
“It is a concession to the United States,” said Gregory Kulacki, senior analyst and China project major at the global security program of Union of Concerned Scientists.
Kulacki said that “humanitarian consequences” clearly refers to a convention to ban nuclear weapons, which the major nuclear powers, including the United States, are against. In February, Japanese Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament Toshio Sano said adopting a nuclear ban treaty is still premature given the security situation and because the countries who possess nuclear weapons did not take part in the meeting of a U.N. working group of nuclear disarmament.
Naoki Iwatsuki, a professor of international law at Tokyo-based Rikkyo University, also said the word “humanitarian” carries a connotation of condemnation.
“They used more neutral words by choosing ‘human suffering,’ ” said Iwatsuki. “If they really wanted to show the commitment to nuclear disarmament, they could have used the word ‘humanitarian.’ ”
The G-7 foreign ministers’ meeting was a curtain-raiser for the G-7 summit scheduled for May 26 and 27 in the Ise-Shima region in Mie Prefecture. The biggest global concern raised at the foreign ministers’ meeting and will be discussed at the G-7 leaders’ summit is counterterrorism, at a time when extreme militant groups such as Islamic State are staging brutal terror acts.
To lay the groundwork for the leaders’ summit, the communique said the G-7 countries are working on “a G-7 action plan on international counter terrorism that will include concrete measures to enhance G-7 and international counterterrorism efforts.” That plan is to be adopted at the summit next month.
Kishida said the foreign ministers had a very candid and heated discussion about security in Asia, which Kishida worked to bring to the table as the only Asian member of the G-7 and for the first G-7 summit in Asia in eight years.
As for North Korea, the statement said they condemn “in the strongest terms” the North’s fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6, followed by the launch of a long-range satellite which many claimed was a cover for a long-range missile. It was an upgrade from last year’s communique, which only said that “we strongly condemn North Korea’s continued development of its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.”
The G-7 foreign ministers also adopted a statement on maritime security, which reportedly raised such heated discussions among the foreign ministers that they ran out of time. This was the second year for the G-7 to issue a separate statement, but their concerns were more pronounced this year, by calling on “the peaceful management and settlement of maritime disputes” in good faith and in accordance with international law, including civil arbitration.
The statement also said G-7 ministers are “concerned about the situation in the East and South China Seas,” and expressed strong opposition to “any intimidating, coercive or provocative unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tensions,” citing land reclamation efforts.
The statement or Kishida during the news conference made no mention of China, as G-7 countries do not want to provoke Beijing by blatantly pointing out that it has been conducting major land reclamation projects, and has deployed radar and surface-to-air missiles in the South China Sea. Yet the mention of the arbitration court was timely as the international arbitration court in The Hague is expected to announce a ruling over the territorial dispute between the Philippines and China in coming months.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Saturday said bringing up the South China Sea issue at the Hiroshima conference would offer no solutions but only damage regional stability.