Broadening Support for Rule of Law Could Be Summit’s Historic Legacy

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, second from right, poses with student volunteers at the opening ceremony of the International Media Center in Hiroshima on May 13.

The Group of Seven summit now being held in Hiroshima comes at a critical juncture. The international community stands at a crossroads because of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, among other issues. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who bears the heavy responsibility of chairing the three-day summit, intends to lead the meeting by emphasizing two perspectives.

The first perspective is that Kishida looks to demonstrate to the international community the G7’s determination to maintain and strengthen “a free and open international order based on the rule of law.” Japan has advocated this term as the ideal form of international norms and, for the first time, successfully incorporated it into the joint statement of the G7 foreign ministers’ meeting in April.

Japan’s postwar peace and prosperity have been supported by a free and open international order. At the same time, the G7 countries emphasize this idea as a universal value through which benefits can be shared by all nations, large and small. The prime minister told those around him: “The international community should have learned from reflecting on World War II that one should not attack a weaker country by force. At the end of the day, each country should decide its own course.” With Russia and China openly pushing toward “rule by force,” the importance of putting forth a countervailing message has never been greater.

The second perspective is that the prime minister will try to strengthen engagement with partner countries outside of the G7, particularly the emerging and developing nations of the so-called Global South. The leaders of India, Indonesia and Brazil — all representatives of the Global South — have been invited to the Hiroshima summit along with the leaders of five other non-G7 countries. The G7 and the invited countries will hold sessions to discuss global issues such as food and energy security, international health, and climate change, and they will propose strengthening cooperation. Although the G7 countries accounted for nearly 70% of global gross domestic product in the 1980s, that figure has dropped below 50% in recent years.

Meanwhile, the Global South’s presence in the international community is growing in relative terms.

Senior Deputy Foreign Minister Keiichi Ono, who serves as Kishida’s “sherpa” personal representative at the summit, told The Yomiuri Shimbun in a May 1 interview: “The G7 alone cannot manage the international community. Sessions with invited countries will become more important than ever. We want to have frank discussions and achieve results.”

By emphasizing his two perspectives, Kishida hopes to build a broad international network that shares the importance of the “rule of law, firmly rejecting any unilateral attempt to change the status quo by force.”

Most Global South countries have not joined the sanctions campaign against Russia in response to its aggression against Ukraine. Instead, these countries have opted for a wait-and-see approach. The energy and food crises that have accompanied the invasion of Ukraine are even more serious for them, and the reality is, according to a senior Foreign Ministry official, that “many countries have no choice but to prioritize dealing with their domestic economies over lofty ideals.”

Japan intends to deepen cooperation with these countries by approaching them carefully and offering “practical benefits,” such as food and infrastructure development assistance. Japan plans to promote the rule of law through dialogue and the building of relationships of trust.

In March, Kishida visited India and met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In addition to directly conveying an invitation to the summit, Kishida told Modi that “if the rule of law is lost, economically weaker countries will be the victims.” India holds the presidency of the Group of 20 major economies this year. Kishida intends for the achievements of the G7 summit to be a baton he can pass to the G20 summit.

During the Golden Week holidays of late April and early May, Kishida also visited Egypt, Ghana, Kenya and Mozambique, reconfirming the importance of the rule of law with the leaders of each country. Kishida told reporters that he wanted to “surely connect the voices of Africa to the discussions at the G7 summit.”

Japan’s approach to the Global South is to give as much consideration as possible to the national circumstances of individual countries. Japan does not impose its political system or principles on individual countries but seeks to share basic ideals — most significantly respect for the rule of law. This is because countries in the Global South have diverse political systems, and demanding adherence to values such as “democracy” could push them into the China-Russia camp, which would embrace them regardless of their systems.

A senior Foreign Ministry official stressed, “Through the summit, we want to send a message that we should all work together to uphold the rule of law and that Japan, which is not biased toward values-oriented diplomacy, has a major role to play.”

In an article for the March-April issue of “Diplomacy,” a journal published by the Foreign Ministry, Kishida wrote: “I will lead the discussion as Chair and demonstrate the G7’s strong determination to the world … I will do my utmost to ensure the success of the Summit to realize a bright future for the international community.”

Throughout history, there have been turning points that have determined major trends. Will posterity remember the G7 summit in Hiroshima as a turning point where the G7 pushed back against those that sought to change the status quo by force, by spreading the unity of the G7 to like-minded countries? For Japan, facing an increasingly militaristic China, the summit’s success or failure will directly affect its national interest. Kishida has an important historical mission to fulfill.

Political Pulse appears every Saturday.

Michitaka Kaiya

Kaiya is a staff writer in the Political News Department of The Yomiuri Shimbun.