G7 Summit in Hiroshima: Focusing on the Indo-Pacific with an eye to Ukraine and the Global South
The G7 leaders met in Japan from 19 to 21 May. Ukrainian President Zelensky and the leaders of some of the main countries of the Indo-Pacific region were also in attendance.
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From 19 to 21 May, Hiroshima hosted the annual meeting of the leaders of the seven major industrialised countries. This event has been consolidating for years and represents an important moment of dialogue between the economically strongest democratic countries. Gathered for the first time in 1976, the G7 Summit has become a crucial forum for defining common initiatives among the world’s seven great powers and for agreeing on agendas and activities, in the economic field and beyond. In fact, the Summit – which will be held in Italy next year – also allows the G7 countries to make an impact at the international level by strengthening not only the dialogue between allies, but also cooperation and collaboration in strategic matters for global stability and security. The key topics discussed during the summit’s plenary sessions as well as in bilateral meetings included not only the risk of a possible escalation of the China-Taiwan dispute and the security threats posed by China’s increasing assertiveness in the Pacific area, but also the war in Ukraine, environmental, health, and security issues, and the risks related to nuclear proliferation, especially within the region.
The first to arrive in Japan was Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who met her Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida, on Thursday evening. The meeting was an opportunity to confirm the excellent state of Japanese-Italian relations which, as Kishida recalled, constitute a strategic partnership. Italy, as confirmed recently on various occasions and through various initiatives, is looking with growing interest at the Indo-Pacific, which is an increasingly important area for global economic stability.
Italy is currently collaborating in top defence programmes with several countries in the region and will soon deploy its flagship Cavour aircraft carrier – with a battle group – in the Indo-Pacific, with the declared objective to preserve the concept of “free and open” navigation. This not only represents an unprecedented display of military power in the region on Italy’s part, but also the country’s will to carve out a role of its own in the area, which has significant ties with the Mediterranean and in which there are many Italian interests.
The Hiroshima G7 Summit, in addition to the seven leaders of Japan, Italy, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Canada and the heads of the European Commission and Council, was also attended by important countries of the Asian and Pacific region, from South Korea to Vietnam, Australia, Indonesia, the Cook Islands and Comoros, as well as two large countries such as India and Brazil.
The Summit, therefore, mainly focused on the priorities of the Indo-Pacific region, where fears of escalating tensions around Taiwan are mounting, as are concerns over nuclear proliferation – with North Korea just a few steps away – and growing militarisation of the region. The latter are fuelled by China’s continuous strengthening of its international projection and role as a great power, and by its strong competition with all the other countries of the region, which is generating anxiety over its hegemonic ambitions. This is why the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, in her final statement declared: “Our policies towards China need to change because China has changed”. The EU, therefore, in agreement with the G7 leaders, reaffirmed the need to adopt a new approach towards Beijing. This means that, while the EU should keep the dialogue on global macro-issues open, it should also take note of China’s widespread internal repression, increased international assertiveness, and the vulnerabilities and risks for the West arising from economic, commercial and, especially, technological dependence on China. Although it is not in the interest of the G7 leaders to economically disengage from Beijing (a policy that is often indicated with the term “decoupling”) or to impede its progress and development, they clearly see a common need to make their economies more resilient and competitive, and to increase the protection of national interests, by paying particular attention to the protection of strategically important assets – an approach that can be associated with the concept of “de-risking”.
In the Indo-Pacific area, which has been experiencing very strong economic growth for years, countries such as Japan and South Korea, which are increasingly linked to the Euro-Atlantic countries, together with Australia and New Zealand, now represent solid allies and reliable partners for Western countries, as well as fast growing regional powers, not only in technological and economic terms. For this reason, it was not surprising that the G7 Summit also included a separate meeting of the leaders of QUAD – the quadrilateral forum composed of Japan, India, Australia and the United States – during which full support for the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” concept was emphasised.
Indeed, the G7 Summit, which took place in the evocative location of Hiroshima, mainly focused on the Indo-Pacific region and the host country’s main issues of interest, such as the risks of nuclear proliferation. This is a sensitive topic in Japan, which has come back to the fore not only because of the threats posed by North Korea, but also because of the increase in international tensions after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine which has opened a new season of conflict between Russia and the West and brought back the atomic threat like in the Cold War days.
The war in Ukraine and its global effects were at the top of the Summit agenda, with two out of eight sessions devoted entirely to the subject. With Ukrainian President Zelensky attending the Summit and playing an important role, G7 leaders discussed the need for a solution to the conflict, as well as diplomatic, financial, humanitarian, and military support for Ukraine, reaffirming their firm condemnation of Russian actions and recalling the importance of economic sanctions and the urgency of monitoring any attempts by third countries to bypass them. The call for China to pressure Russia to comply with the principles of the UN Charter, stop military aggression and withdraw its troops from Ukraine was also reiterated.
The Summit, however, also served as an opportunity to revive attention and proposals on new needs arising from the risks linked to climate change and the new economic, environmental and health crises that may hit the poorest countries, with a special focus on some African and Asian states, which are particularly vulnerable on both the economic and humanitarian fronts. Africa and the entire Global South, towards which Japan also boasts numerous cooperation initiatives, were a topic of great importance, as it is apparent that the security and stability of higher income countries also derives from the security and stability of these areas.
The war in Ukraine has increased political and economic instability and insecurity in many lower income countries. If not properly addressed, this could lead to the outbreak of new serious crises in the coming months, with a significant impact on neighboring states as well. Therefore, from a European perspective, new elements of instability in the South could lead to dangerous effects and worrying repercussions, especially in the Mediterranean, in addition to the war’s direct effects on Europe, such as the humanitarian crisis and the great tension between Russia and European countries.
Against this backdrop, the G7 leaders reaffirmed their will to act as facilitators for emerging economies seeking sustainable financing opportunities. As also stated by EU Commission President von der Leyen, several Global South actors put their trust in China and Russia, seeing themselves as “stuck in a debt trap” or invaded “by arms and mercenaries”. To counter this situation, she expressed the need to offer advantageous multi-sectoral partnerships that can strengthen the recipient countries’ economy and, consequently, reduce the risks of economic and political insecurity as well as health and environmental instability. In particular, with the Global South, Italy can play its historic role as a bridge, between the West and Africa, Asia and Indo-Pacific partners.