G7 must reaffirm unity to maintain free and open international order

The free and open international order is being shaken by challenges from China and Russia. In order to protect peace and prosperity, nations that place importance on human rights and the rule of law need to strengthen their unity.

Foreign ministers of the Group of Seven nations recently held talks for the second time this year, following their meeting in May, which is highly unusual.

“I strongly felt anew the significance for the G7, which shares fundamental values and principles, to work together to lead the international community,” Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters on his first overseas trip since he assumed office.

At the talks, the G7 adopted a joint statement on the situation in Ukraine, condemning Russia’s military pressure. “Further military aggression against Ukraine would have massive consequences and severe cost in response,” the group said in a strong warning it issued.

Each country expressed concerns over China’s suppression of human rights in Hong Kong and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, and its attempts to unilaterally change the status quo in the East and South China seas. They also affirmed the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

China and Russia have been repeating actions that disregard international rules. It was significant for the G7 foreign ministers to gather together and send another message that the group does not tolerate these actions.

Hayashi, too, expressed “serious concerns” over China’s behavior. China has been intruding into Japan’s territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands on a regular basis. Japan should take the lead in the G7 on such discussions.

Regarding the “diplomatic boycott” of the Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics, with some nations not dispatching a government delegation, the foreign minister said he told his counterparts the Japanese government “will make a decision at an appropriate time after comprehensively considering various circumstances.”

Unless China addresses the concerns of other countries over the suppression of human rights and its hegemonic behavior, the Beijing Games are unlikely to succeed. It is essential for China to take concrete measures, such as accepting an international investigation team. Hayashi must clearly convey Japan’s stance.

The first extended G7 talks with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations were held without the participation of Myanmar, where the military suppression of pro-democracy elements continues.

The G7 and ASEAN affirmed that maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific is in their common interest and agreed to cooperate in maritime security and infrastructure development. The G7 and ASEAN said they will cooperate more closely in the future.

These expanded talks must be continued, and Japan, which has long cooperated with ASEAN member states and is familiar with the situations of each of the nations, should serve as a bridge between the two groups.

During his stay in Britain, Hayashi held talks individually with the foreign ministers of the G7 nations and Australia. He also exchanged words with the foreign minister of South Korea, though without seating and on the sidelines. In order to overcome various pending issues, it is essential for Hayashi to make efforts to build personal relationships.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 14, 2021.