National / Politics | FOCUS

Japan begins to doubt G7's influence in addressing East Asian issues

by Tomoyuki Tachikawa

Kyodo

There are indications that Japan, the only Asian member of the Group of Seven nations, has begun to doubt the influence of the 44-year-old organization of mainly Western nations, as it has proved largely ineffective in resolving issues surrounding the East Asian region.

With U.S. President Donald Trump and some European leaders at odds over trade, security and climate matters, concerns in East Asia have received less attention at G7 meetings, Japanese officials have grumbled in private.

While Japan continues to cooperate with its G7 peers — which include Britain, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, and the United States, plus the European Union — to tackle threats from North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, as well as the negative impact of China’s economic slowdown and its trade war with the United States, things recently have not gone as Tokyo had hoped.

“We are the only G7 member from Asia. We have to play a significant role in the group composed of the world’s industrialized economies to grapple with the challenges that the East Asian region is facing,” a Japanese diplomat posted in an Asian nation said.

But “other G7 countries are interested in issues related to themselves, which are different from ours,” he added. “We are worried that the G7 framework may not work to bring about peace, stability and prosperity in East Asia.”

This year’s three-day G7 summit began in the southwestern French resort of Biarritz on Saturday, the same day North Korea test-fired two projectiles — believed to be short-range ballistic missiles — in its seventh round of such launches since July 25.

Hours before the G7 leaders gathered, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held separate talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Abe agreed with each of his three counterparts to “cooperate closely” to contain the security threat posed by North Korea, according to Foreign Ministry officials.

Nevertheless, one of the officials said Abe and Merkel “did not have an in-depth discussion” about North Korea, adding that the German chancellor only said, “You are right,” after her Japanese counterpart briefed her on Tokyo’s stance against Pyongyang.

When Abe talked with Trudeau, the two sides just confirmed the importance of the denuclearization of North Korea and implementation of sanctions on Pyongyang, without exchanging views on the country’s recent firings of new weapons, another ministry official said.

Sunday’s meeting between Abe and Trump on the sidelines of the G7 meeting also revealed their differing views on North Korea’s missile launches.

Asked about Pyongyang’s flurry of short-range missile tests, Trump told reporters, “I’m not happy about it. But again he’s not been in violation of an agreement,” likely referring to an “understanding” a U.S. official says Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have about Pyongyang not testing intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Abe, meanwhile, said at the outset of his meeting with Trump that the launches of short-range ballistic missiles are in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, calling them “extremely regrettable.”

The Security Council resolutions have barred North Korea from using ballistic technology.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura, in briefings to reporters in Biarritz, said the G7 countries agreed to cooperate to achieve the denuclearization of North Korea, but he did not mention whether they shared the view that Pyongyang’s recent weapon launches infringe on the resolutions.

“I am not sure how much Western people are wary of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles,” the Asia-based diplomat said.

“Now that Trump and Kim Jong Un have been apparently trying to move forward with denuclearization negotiations bilaterally, North Korea may have become an inappropriate issue to be discussed at the G7,” he added.

As for the tit-for-tat tariff dispute between the U.S. and China, the G7 leaders agreed to take “every possible measure” to address downside risks to the global economy, Nishimura said.

But he did not elaborate on what kind of steps the G7 can implement, highlighting the difficulties the group faces in uniting around efforts ease economic tensions involving the United States, which is also engaged in trade spats with France and the European Union.

Before leaving for Biarritz, Abe told reporters in Tokyo, “We’ll discuss and seek progress on issues of sustainable global growth and free trade promotion.”

Japan’s economy has shown signs of slowing down as its exports to its biggest trading partner, China, have shrunk against a backdrop of Washington’s tariff hikes on Beijing, in turn weighing on growth in private investment and spending.

Yet, in what Macron, this year’s chair of the G7, called a “one-page declaration” released Monday after the summit, its leaders said only that the group “is committed to open and fair world trade and to the stability of the global economy.”

“We think we had very good discussions” at the G7 summit, Nishimura stressed.

But the diplomat was blunt in his assessment: “We no longer expect that the G7 framework will function as a contributor to economic growth in our region.”

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