National / Politics

Japan and G7 peers brace for fractious summit in France

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Leaders from the Group of Seven democracies will gather in the seaside resort town of Biarritz, France, beginning Saturday for what is expected to be a fractured, contentious summit due to fundamental disagreements between the United States and other members over trade and climate change.

Citing unnamed government sources, Japanese media outlets had reported that this year’s G7 was unlikely to issue a joint statement for the first time in its history.

In response, a senior Foreign Ministry official in Tokyo emphasized Wednesday that G7 members were still preparing to issue a joint statement to summarize discussions at the summit meeting, but added that a final decision will be eventually made by the top leaders during the gathering.

Last year’s G7 summit ended in terrible disarray over trade as several leaders reportedly bashed U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to charge massive tariffs on steel and aluminum imports to the U.S. Trump later withdrew his endorsement of the communique issued at the summit in Charlevoix, Canada.

Another senior Japanese diplomat has said Paris, the chair of this year’s summit, appears to be trying to focus on less controversial issues this year to avoid critical confrontations among members, such as wealth inequality and issues related to Africa.

In addition, the threat of a “no-deal” Brexit on Oct. 31 between the United Kingdom and the European Union is expected to dominate discussions on the side, as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes his debut at a G7 meeting.

For Japan, which hosted the Group of 20 meeting two months ago, the Biarritz meeting could see pressure, especially from France, to go against the wishes of the U.S. and offer support to strong G7 language on climate change in advance of next month’s United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York.

That gathering aims to boost international ambition and accelerate actions to implement the Paris agreement on climate change. In 2017, Trump announced the U.S. was withdrawing from the agreement, and mention of it in final G7 and G20 statements since has created tensions between the U.S. and other countries at such meetings.

At this year’s G7, and in response to the international backlash against the adverse effects of globalization that has produced leaders like Trump and Johnson, France is making the fight against social and economic inequality due to a lack of opportunities and environmental degradation (including climate change), security and counterterrorism, digital development and artificial intelligence, and new partnerships with Africa, as the main themes of the summit. French President Emmanuel Macron has promised that gender inequality would be high on the G7 agenda as well.

“The aim (of combatting inequality) is not to abandon globalization (which has helped lift millions of people out of extreme poverty), but rather to better regulate it so that nobody is left behind,” the French government said in announcing its G7 priorities.

Japan is expected to use the Biarritz summit to follow up on the agenda of the G20 Osaka summit, including climate change. Kimiko Hirata, international director at Kiko Network, a Japanese nongovernmental organization dealing with Japan’s climate change policy, says it’s possible Tokyo, with French prodding, might agree on a stronger commitment to tackling climate change at the G7 than it did at the G20.

“I expect the French G7 presidency will take the lead on getting a strong commitment on climate, especially to commit to carbon neutrality by 2050 and to replenish the Green Climate Fund. The majority of G7 members, besides the U.S., are progressive on climate policy,” she said.

The GCF was set up by 194 countries in 2010 to support efforts by developing countries to limit or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change.

What agreements, if any, are reached among the G7 members, which include Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K., the U.S., as well as representatives from the European Union, remain dependent on the attitudes of the U.S., according to Jon Alterman, senior vice president of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He told reporters earlier this week the G7 continues to wonder how it should deal with the U.S. under Trump.

“There’s no question that there has been a complete realization on the world stage that the U.S. is not playing its traditional role, and may never again play the role it’s played for 75 years. But it’s unclear what role the U.S. will play, and what the consequences might be. This is a summit where leaders will be trying to work that out,” he said.

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