G7 Hiroshima Summit: An Occasion of Japan’s Wooing of the Global South?

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The annual meeting of the most advanced economies, the G7 summit, took place in Hiroshima, during 19-21 May 2023, under Japan’s presidency. The 49th summit of the G7 marked a striking turning point in global diplomatic affairs, when Japan, as part of the G7’s outreach policy, where the host country can invite non-member countries to participate in the summit, mainly chose to invite countries from the global south. The long-standing advocate for peace, took the opportunity to extend invitations to eight nations, namely Australia, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Comoros, Cook Islands, South Korea, and Vietnam. Most of the invitees hailed from the global south, except for Australia and South Korea. This exclusive invitation list, not only showcased the growing influence of the region in world politics but also reflected Japan’s strategic move. Its raising assertiveness in global politics and concerted efforts to strengthen relations with the Global South.

For decades, Japan has followed a pacifist principle and relinquished military ambitions to focus on economic development. As a peace-loving nation, it has been a reliable development partner for many of the Global South countries. However, recent developments indicate a shift in Japan’s approach to national security, especially with rising Chinese power and instability in the neighborhood with North Korea, and its willingness to play a more active role in global affairs. Analysts have speculated that Japan’s invitee list was a strategic move designed to woo the Global South and gain their support in its endeavors. By hosting the G7 summit and using its presidency to bring Global South countries closer, Japan aimed to consolidate its reputation as a development partner with its growing assertiveness on the world stage. This approach would enable Japan to further its interests and garner support from these nations on critical global issues.

Japan’s Growing Assertiveness in Global Politics in Recent Time

Japan is breaking out of its shell and now seeks to assert its position in the world. It has shown a rising assertiveness in world affairs recently, which is reflected in its political goals, military objectives, and attempts to strategically use soft power. This rediscovered assertiveness is demonstrated by the numerous activities and projects Japan has undertaken on the global scene. Japan has sought to increase its political clout and cement its position as a regional and world leader. Following in the footsteps of his predecessor Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has emphasised the significance of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” as the foundation of Japan’s foreign policy. This vision seeks to advance economic integration, marine security, and rule-based governance in the region. To further this objective, Japan has actively participated in partnerships and alliances, such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) with the United States, Australia, and India. In addition, it has increased diplomatic engagements with global and regional partners, strengthened alliances and has emerged as the leader in security issues, especially regional ones. Notable examples of such political ambitions can be seen as it has taken a firm stance against China’s maritime assertiveness in the East China Sea and has deepened security cooperation with Southeast Asian countries facing similar challenges. Moreover, Japan has shown a willingness to engage in diplomacy and dialogue with North Korea, addressing the threat posed by its nuclear and missile programs.

In terms of military ambitions, Japan has taken steps to enhance its defense capabilities and play a more active role. Because of its post-World War II pacifist principles, Japan’s constitution for many years restricted its military to self-defense. To Japan, the neighboring powers like China and North Korea with their nuclear arsenal pose a challenge to its national security in the context of the shifting geopolitical landscape. These elements, together with questions over the dependability of traditional allies, have forced Japan to re-evaluate its defense strategy and take preventative action to safeguard its national interests. In 2015, Japan passed new security laws that expanded the role of its Self-Defense Forces (SDF) beyond the country’s borders. This allowed Japan to engage in collective self-defense and participate in international peacekeeping operations. For instance, it has sent SDF to conflict zones like South Sudan and the Golan Heights to cooperate with regional allies to uphold peace and stability. Japan’s new National Defence Programme Guidelines, which include ambitions to buy cutting-edge defence assets such stealth fighter planes, aircraft carriers, and ballistic missile defence capabilities, were presented in 2019. These initiatives are intended to increase Japan’s deterrent power and promote peace in the neighborhood.

Japan’s assertiveness extends beyond political and military realms and includes diplomatic initiatives as well as soft power projection. It has been a leading development partner in various countries and is now utilizing its longstanding development assistance programs to build relationships, gain influence, and promote its values and interests globally. For instance, it has pursued bilateral and multilateral trade agreements, such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), to promote economic integration and enhance its standing as a regional economic powerhouse. Japan has also positioned itself as a supporter of multilateralism and free trade in contrast to rising protectionist trends. Moreover, its cultural export with world wide popularity of anime and manga and its global recognition as the defender of peace is also into play in achieving its contemporary vision.

Japan’s Involvement with the Global South

A strong feeling of commitment, collaboration, and cultural exchange characterize Japan’s engagement with the Global South. The Land of the Rising Sun carries with it a rich tapestry of heritage, innovation, and generosity as it expands its influence throughout numerous regions. Its involvement is distinguished by a harmonious blend of economic assistance, developmental projects, and diplomatic engagement. Through an array of approaches, Japan has significantly aided the economies of nations in the Global South. It has offered grants, concessional loans, technical cooperation, and capacity-building programs to support infrastructure development, poverty reduction, and economic growth. For instance, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has carried out several projects in nations throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America in areas including transportation, energy, education, and healthcare. Its Official Development Assistance (ODA) Projects have been a major source of FDI in many Global South countries, supporting initiatives like catastrophe risk reduction, human resource development, and climate change adaptation. Additionally, it has been crucial in assisting infrastructure development initiatives and has been involved in building roads, bridges, ports, power plants, and telecommunications networks to enhance connectivity and stimulate economic growth. It has been a time tasted friend of global south and provided emergency relief, humanitarian aid, and technical support in response to natural disasters, conflicts, and public health emergencies.

G7 Invitation List– Wooing the Global South?

Whereas Japanese engagement in the global south has accredited the country the reputation as a beacon of hope and progress, Japan right now is trying to exploit the soft power in its favor, when it is launching itself at the global stage. Japan extended invitations to six nations from the Global South to the G7 summit. This prestigious invitation provided these representatives from the Global South with an unparalleled exposure to the most elite economic forum in the world. While these nations expressed gratitude to Japan for the invitation, it is clear that this move by Japan was not merely a gesture of goodwill, but rather a strategic maneuver to woo the Global South and strengthen its own position.

Japan’s selection of invitees was carefully calculated and carried strategic implications. By inviting India, Indonesia, and Brazil, Japan demonstrated its recognition of these nations as major representatives of the Global South. These countries hold significant economic and geopolitical influence, and their inclusion in the G7 summit showcased Japan’s commitment to engaging with emerging powers and fostering closer ties. Moreover, Japan’s invitation to Vietnam, a nation with ongoing littoral disputes with China, demonstrated Japan’s support for countries in its neighboring region facing security challenges. It reflected Japan’s commitment to maintaining regional stability and the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. The inclusion of Cook Island from the Pacific Ocean region and Comoros from the Indian Ocean region might not provide immediate economic or security benefits to Japan. However, it showcased Japan’s broader commitment to the Indo-Pacific region, emphasizing its dedication to fostering a free, fair, and rule-based order in the region. These invitations symbolized Japan’s recognition of the importance of small island nations in shaping the geopolitical landscape and highlighted its efforts to create a more inclusive and comprehensive Indo-Pacific strategy.

Concluding Remarks

Japan’s presidency at the G7 conference in Hiroshima reflected a crucial turning point in world diplomacy. Japan made a deliberate choice to invite six countries from the Global South in order to deepen its relations with developing nations, demonstrate its commitment to the Indo-Pacific region, and expand its influence on the global stage. The summit provided Japan with an opportunity to leverage its soft power and develop partnerships to strengthen ties with these nations and gain their support in its pursuit of becoming an active global player. Japan’s emergence from its shell encompasses not only economic and diplomatic ambitions but also military aspirations. The inclusive approach taken by Japan at the G7 reflects a broader trend of recognizing the importance of diverse perspectives and inclusive decision-making in addressing global challenges. By carefully selecting invitees that represented diverse regions and addressing specific geopolitical concerns, Japan sought to solidify its position as a key player in global politics and build a network of allies and partners in the Global South.

– Wahid Uzzaman Sifat is a Research Intern at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

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