The importance of the G7 and Japan’s role in a multipolar era
Nearly half a century has passed since the inaugural Group of Seven (G7) Summit took place at the Château de Rambouillet on the outskirts of Paris. On the inaugural agenda of the Summit, which traces its origins to a 1973 meeting between the finance ministers of the US, West Germany, France, and the UK, was the response to the economic crisis in the US. However, the Summit’s role and significance have changed over the last fifty years, as the international community has become more polarized and complex. The year 2008 saw the emergence of a multilateral framework called the G20, while the G7 would go on to become highly institutionalized. With the dynamics of a world led by Japan, the US, and Europe undergoing a significant transformation in recent years due to the rise of emerging nations such as China and India, the questions of how to define international rules and how to form a new international order have naturally come to the forefront.
Looking at the events of the past several years, one can sense the nascent development of a configuration among the current G7 members that might rightly be called “the G7 vs. China.” Of course, the G7 does display some degree of a cooperative stance with China in spheres where the interests of the two nations overlap, but it is nevertheless the case, that at last year’s Summit, the US President Joe Biden framed US–China relations in antagonistic terms, and the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson sought to expand the camp of democracies under the “D11” banner. In addition, last year’s Leaders’ Statement arguably made this configuration all the more clear, not least by explicitly mentioning Taiwan for the first time. The G7 also expanded their foreign ministers’ meeting in the UK in December to include foreign ministers from the ASEAN region, a decision that was likely to have been taken with China in mind. Conversely, depending on how one looks at these events, they may send the message that the G7 cannot stand up to China unless it bands together; hence, caution must be exercised. This is especially true, since the stance toward China among the G7 countries are varied, with Japan, the US, and the UK sharing a strong sense of crisis that contrasts with the more cautious approach taken by Germany and France, which have deep economic ties with China.
Within this context, what is the role expected of Japan in the G7? Japan has been a member since the inaugural summit as a leader of liberal democracies, working towards the formation of a stable international order. Amid circumstances that see the G7 uniting in an anti-China context, would it not be best for Japan to sharpen its ability to coordinate with other countries and adopt more imaginative diplomatic policies that focus on global interests going beyond its own? What is important here, first and foremost, is to spread an accurate perception of Asia. While China is currently expanding both militarily and economically, each country differs in how it perceives China. This is due to differences in physical distance, cultural distance, or the strength of the country’s political and economic ties with China. In addition to being the only Asian member of the G7, Japan is also China’s neighbor. In that sense, the G7 still has great expectations of Japan as its window into Asia. Japan should meet these expectations by disseminating an accurate perception of Asia, and making the most of its uncommonly deft negotiation skills to settle disputes among the G7 members. It is also imperative that Japan actively develops policies from a wider perspective, encompassing Asia and the Indian Ocean.
In light of this, JFIR launched a study group called “Strengthening Japan’s Overall Diplomatic Capability: Possibility of Japan as a ‘Hybrid Power’” in 2020. This study group, in which I serve as the Vice-Chair, uses both quantitative and non-quantitative international indices as a basis for discussions to explore the kinds of “hybrid power” Japan could exercise to strengthen its national brand. We conduct research using the global think tank network we have at our disposal in the hope of supporting Japanese diplomacy from a Track II perspective. Aside from devoting all our efforts to what we can do, we would now like to focus on future developments in Kishida Diplomacy.
(This is the English translation of an article written by WATANABE Mayu, President, the Japan Forum on International Relations, which originally appeared on the e-forum “Hyakka-Seiho (Hundred Flowers in Full Bloom)” of JFIR on December 20, 2021.)