I have been following the Group of Seven meetings for more than 40 years — since the Tokyo Summit in 1979.
In modern history, I can think of no other G7 gathering that has produced results as substantive, consequential and global in scope as this year’s Hiroshima summit.
Before the meeting, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida contributed an article that was published in Foreign Affairs magazine. The Hiroshima summit, he wrote, takes place at “a turning point for the world. It is a unique opportunity to express our determination to reinforce a free and open international order while proactively addressing the needs of people across the globe,” and “As chair, I am committed to exerting leadership in that effort.”
However, some Japanese media outlets, particularly the Asahi Shimbun, responded harshly to the G7 Hiroshima Leaders’ Communique. The Asahi’s editorial board stated, “A document that lacks a long-term perspective on nuclear abolition cannot be called a vision,” and “The chair, Prime Minister Kishida, will be tested on his ability to send out a solid message to the world.”
The criticism, which is nothing new for some domestic media outlets, simply shows how detached they are from the reality of current international politics. To our great surprise, they still remain more obsessed with nuclear abolition than with the current massive shift in the international security environment.
Also during the Hiroshima gathering, in addition to the G7 meeting, the Japan-U.S.-Korea summit, “the Quad” summit and even a visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy took place. The three-day event was unusually full of topics and achievements and made me rethink what politics is and what political leadership is all about.
The G7 summit in Hiroshima was the first such meeting by the group held in Asia since the start of the Ukraine war and comes at a time when China, Russia and North Korea are openly challenging the existing international order, not only in Europe, but also in the Indo-Pacific region, even through the possible use of force.
In Hiroshima, I realized once again that the eras of the Cold War and post-Cold War are finally over and that a new international and domestic political environment is emerging to replace them.
Unfortunately, the Japanese media’s attention was solely focused on Kishida’s performance at the summit. The ramifications of what took place at Hiroshima will probably change the underlying currents of international politics for a long time to come. The following are some off the takeaways about politics and leadership that I pondered in Hiroshima:
The resumption of face-to-face meetings reaffirmed the significance of having people gather in one place to discuss important issues. Some people ask if it is possible to have a frank discussion at G7 meetings, but in multilateral meetings of this kind, honest discussions are often held during break times.
This is why presence is so important in politics. At this year’s gathering, in addition to the heads of the G7 nations, the leaders of South Korea, Australia, India, Vietnam and other countries participated. Ukrainian President Zelenskyy’s presence in Hiroshima itself changed the trajectory of international politics.
But no matter how many influential politicians gather, if no conclusions are reached, such conferences will just flounder. In this type of international conference, it is important to occupy the “center of gravity” where all actions and information flows are concentrated. The presidency can have a major impact on the outcome of the meeting.
However, the chair’s job is not to perform but to preside over the meeting and provide conclusions and direction. Such kind of leadership is not always flamboyant or visible. In this respect, too, I believe that the Japanese media’s interest is out of touch with the essence of what is going on in the meetings.
Prior to his arrival in Hiroshima, U.S. President Joe Biden postponed visits to Papua New Guinea and Australia. As a result, the Quad summit, originally scheduled to be held in Australia, was held in Hiroshima as well. And despite the war in Ukraine, President Zelenskyy visited the Japanese city via Saudi Arabia, which was a big surprise.
Some Japanese politicians called Kishida “a man of strong luck.”
However, these seemingly “coincidental” sequences of events would not have been possible without the long preparation and tireless efforts of Japanese officials. In the long history of mankind, luck has always been and will continue to be an important factor in politics.
But politics is like a vintage wine. There is no such thing as a natural-born political leader and the Japanese media has often been critical of Kishida’s stewardship of the government. But good leadership matures over time and is shaped by the demands of the times and the political environment at home and abroad.
Strong luck alone is not enough for political leadership to thrive, but if a politician is in the right place, occupies the center of gravity and continues to play the role of the greatest common denominator, then the times will naturally produce capable political leaders.
In the case of France, it was Charles de Gaulle, for the United Kingdom, it was Winston Churchill and in the case of the United States, it was Ronald Reagan — all products of their time. As for Japan, the best examples are Prime Ministers Shigeru Yoshida, and more recently, Shinzo Abe.
That said, times have changed and the political environment surrounding Japan has also drastically changed.
Whether and when Kishida will be able to step up further as the times require depends on how flexibly he can respond to the demands and challenges he will face on domestic and international political stages in the years to come.
Source : TheJapanTimes