Abe fails to bridge divergences within G7

By Chen Yang Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/1 19:33:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

According to the Asahi Shimbun, leaders at the G7 summit in Taormina, Italy inked a declaration after two days of discussion on May 27. The key points of the joint declaration were to keep markets open and fight against all forms of protectionism, that North Korea poses an increasing threat of a "grave nature" to international peace and security, and the intent to oppose tensions in the South China Sea caused by any party. The G7 summit in Iseshima last May issued a joint declaration of 32 pages, while this year's declaration had merely six pages, showing distinct differences among G7 on various issues and a lack of consensus.

The 2017 G7 summit was probably the most difficult in its 40-odd-year history. Though only a year has passed since the last summit, there have been drastic changes in leadership in the US, the UK, France and Italy. In particular, American President Donald Trump holds starkly different opinions regarding trade deficits, global climate and NATO military spending from those of other European state leaders.

Therefore, the main focus was on how he intends to build up trust and address global problems together with the other leaders during the Taormina summit.

The G7 declaration, however, seems to have proved that conflicts between the US and the other six countries have not been totally resolved. For instance, the US remains a holdout on climate change; in terms of trade, the promise to "fight against all forms of protectionism" was included but the clause "to keep markets open" which was strongly proposed by Trump was also added.

In light of these differences, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe happily took on the role of mediator in an attempt to increase his influence through diplomacy. Abe has attended six G7 summits, only behind German Chancellor Angela Merkel who has been to 12, and acted as the chair of the Iseshima summit last year. Since Trump took office in January, Abe has held two leaders' summits and made six phone calls with him. Trump has even called him a "friend."

With such an upper hand, Abe has embarked on a tour to Germany, France, Italy, the UK and EU headquarters since late March to feel out European leaders on issues such as free trade and the values of the G7. Abe will likely pass on his findings regarding the intent of European countries through diplomatic channels to the Trump administration in exchange for trust and a stronger say. Judging from the outcome of this summit, however, Abe's efforts have obviously not been successful in mitigating conflicts within the G7.

It is noteworthy that on the eve of this summit, Abe kept a low profile on the South China Sea issue in sharp contrast to his sabre-rattling last year. During his meeting with Trump on May 26, Abe took North Korea as the main topic for discussion. Against the background of the stable development of Sino-US relations and frequent terrorist attacks in Europe, it runs counter to the keynote of the G7 summit if Abe pressed too hard on the South China Sea issue, therefore he was forced to be patient and wait for a better occasion to get what he wants.

Due to the hard-handed diplomacy expected within Japan, Abe was unable to completely drop the issue and was only able to mention the South China Sea issue while expressing hopes to "communicate with China."

The South China Sea issue being written into the G7 declaration is a demonstration of "unity" among G7 states to cover up internal divisions. As they have reached limited consensus during the summit, the G7's addressing of the South China Sea issue not only shows the world that they are able to keep consistent opinions on certain global issues despite changes in member states, but also works to fill in an embarrassing lack of consensus. Considering the fact that many South China Sea claimant countries are not even included in the G7, such a declaration is nothing but ridiculous.

Last, Trump's strong position on many issues justifies concerns that conflicts within the G7 will not be resolved in a short term, which will lead to its undermined prestige in the international community.

Meanwhile, the declining influence of the G7 is a fact without question, more so given the rise of China, India, Russia, Brazil and other emerging powers.

Issues left unresolved at the Taormina G7 summit may have to wait until the G20 summit in Hamburg for further development.

The author is a PhD candidate at the Graduate School of Sociology, Toyo University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion


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