TOKYO – Russian threats to bomb Ukraine with nuclear weapons. China’s bellicose military moves around rival Taiwan. North Korea’s unprecedented series of missile tests.
The top diplomats from some of the world’s most powerful democracies will have much to discuss when they meet Sunday in Karuizawa, the hot-springs resort, for the so-called Group of Seven foreign ministers’ meeting.
Some believe that with the weakening of the United Nations and the intransigence of Russia and China in the Security Council, global forums like the G7 will become even more important. But there are also serious doubts that diplomats from predominantly Western democracies can find ways to influence, much less stop, authoritarian nations that are increasingly willing to use violence or the threat of it to further their interests.
Alongside the global hotspots, foreign ministers from Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, Italy and the European Union are expected to discuss ways to improve human rights and democracy, as well as potentially issues important to poorer nations feel through the Focus on wealthy countries with stable governments underrepresented.
Dominating the agenda, however, is concern about Russia, China and North Korea and an awareness of the unmistakable interdependence of these and other foreign policy issues.
This year’s G7 meetings are the most important in the history of the meeting given the urgent need to end Russia’s war in Ukraine and a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan, according to Yuichi Hosoya, a professor of international politics at Keio University in Japan.
With the stakes so high, here’s a look at what diplomats will face in the talks, which conclude Tuesday:
THE WAR IN UKRAINE
A broad focus on nuclear issues has always been important at this year’s G7 talks, which will culminate with the summit of key leaders next month in Hiroshima, the target of the war’s first atomic bomb.
The issue is all the more pressing amid fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin, despondent over Ukraine’s failures, could use a tactical nuclear weapon to win the war.
China is seen as one of the few nations that could influence Russia’s moves in Ukraine, and foreign policy alignment between the world’s two largest autocracies will be a key focus at Karuizawa.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who seems increasingly encouraged to pursue his authoritarian impulses, recently traveled to Moscow and pledged to deepen bilateral ties. That has “overshadowed hopes that Beijing would pressure Putin to end[his]conflict,” said Stephen Nagy, an Asia researcher at the International Christian University in Tokyo.
During his visit to Beijing this month, French President Emmanuel Macron appealed to Xi to “bring Russia to reason” but received only a tepid response and further calls for a political solution.
Japan could use the G7 to announce an increase in its already significant support to Ukraine, said Jeffrey Hall, a senior lecturer at Kanda University of International Studies.
“Japan’s leadership sees cooperation on security issues related to Ukraine as a potential path to greater security cooperation in the Pacific,” Hall said.
China’s increasingly bold attempts to intimidate self-governing Taiwan were illustrated when Beijing recently dispatched planes and ships to conduct a simulated encirclement of the island that China claims as its territory. China’s broad military expansion, including a rapid buildup of its nuclear warheads, a harder line on its claim to the South China Sea and recent comments by Xi painting a scenario of imminent confrontation, have fueled fears among the G7 countries.
Beijing and Pyongyang are particularly concerned about Japan’s military expansion, which they see as an attempt to “weaken both capitals’ efforts to rewrite the regional security architecture in their favor,” Nagy said.
Under Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Tokyo made a major break with its post-WWII principles of pure self-defense, seeking to acquire pre-emptive strike capabilities and cruise missiles to counter growing threats from North Korea, China and Russia.
As the G7 explores ways to manage China’s rise, Beijing is strengthening ties with trade- and investment-friendly countries from Pakistan to Argentina. This will massively expand China’s global presence and challenge North American and European attempts to link investment to good governance and respect for human rights.
Kishida’s decision to invite Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to next month’s leaders’ summit “signals Japan’s desire to strengthen security cooperation with one of China’s rivals. When Japan calls for a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” it calls on nations to oppose the international behavior of China and Russia,” Hall said. ___
THREATS IN NORTH KOREA
According to Park Won Gon, a professor at Seoul’s Ewha Womans University, this year’s G7 talks are critical to reviving diplomacy aimed at pressuring a hostile North Korea to return to disarmament negotiations, particularly with a dysfunctional UN Security Council , which is divided among permanent members.
Since last year, North Korea has tested around 100 missiles, including ICBMs that have shown potential to reach the US mainland, and a host of other shorter-range weapons that threaten South Korea and Japan.
Leader Kim Jong Un may seek to use the global distraction of Russia’s war in Ukraine to expand a nuclear arsenal he sees as the strongest guarantee of his family’s dynastic rule.
Beijing and Moscow last year blocked a US-led initiative to tighten Security Council sanctions on North Korea over its large-scale missile tests.
The Security Council is unlikely to tighten sanctions even if North Korea conducts its first nuclear test since 2017. But a meaningful punitive response could be unleashed by a network of unilateral sanctions rallied by the United States, its allies and “like-minded” European partners at the G7, in a tact similar to Washington’s pressure on Moscow over its aggression in Ukraine sets, Park said.
“The importance of the G7 has been significantly strengthened as it is evident that the role and function of the UN Security Council is being unraveled by Russia and China and it is necessary to find something new to replace it,” Park said.
AP writers Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this story.
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