The G7 summitry is in serious doubt. As is widely reported, German Chancellor Merkel declined the invitation by US president Trump, currently holding the G7 presidency, to attend the meeting, and in turn Mr Trump announced that the meeting would be postponed until September, with its membership expanded to Russia, Australia, India and South Korea.
These developments will lead us to rethink of the very framework of G7 summit. Mr Trump explicitly criticized it as an obsolete form of top diplomacy. The political nature of the gatherings attracts renewed spotlight, as he calls other leaders to discuss ‘China’. At the present moment, it is far from certain whether such a new gathering would take place, who would participate in it, let alone whether and to what extent the new summitry takes on a more pronounced political character. If handled badly, the summitry itself might well be doomed, with nobody in agreement to each other on almost anything.
The first and foremost priority for Japan, as far as the forthcoming G7 summit meeting is concerned, must be to preserve its essential form: an intimate fireside-chat annual gathering among the world (western) leaders; and a set of institutionalized meetings, most importantly amongst the finance ministers and central bankers. Since the new proposal could quietly possibly alter the nature of the G7 gatherings, and since it has come from the most important ally for Japan, it will unavoidably be a sensitive operation. Yet, Japan who has no permanent membership of the UN security council has few other major world-stage diplomatic fora than the G7 summitry. Japan has every incentive to keep it floated.
In order to do that, Japan should draw the bottom-line, so as to be able to concede non-essentials. For instance, it is fine for Japan to discuss China at the G7 summit, as China is the epicenter of COVID-19, as it is undermining the rule of law and freedom of expression in Hong Kong, and as it is expanding the naval and paramilitary maritime activities in the South China and East China Seas. At the same time, Japan should object to the characterization of G7 as a manifestly anti-Chinese forum. Similarly, there is no problem in discussing the possible enlargement of membership, while resisting the actual expansion or at least keeping the presence of non-members temporal/tentative at this stage.
On the individual issues, Japan should table the post-INF arms control as an agenda, somewhat in line with what the US administration thinks. It would require some substantial diplomatic efforts, political capital and time to get the major powers on board yet the mutual benefits are evident: stopping an arms race, reducing the military tensions, and engaging and hedging China politically etc.
In exchange, the digital tax should be made an issue. It would mean to follow up what the G20 leaders agreed over the past years. Japan then took initiative for the BEPS, benefit erosion and profit shifting. It is a natural step forward to go on to discuss the digital tax, so as to be able to secure tax revenue in the complexity of global digital trade.
Last but not least, the ongoing COVID-19 crisis obliges the world leaders to collectively respond to the multiple challenges: from restoring the authority and functions of the WTO through the fairer distribution of anti-biotics and vaccines to the coordinated efforts for a post-crisis economic recovery. It does not seem to be neatly in line with Mr. Trump’s America First way of thinking, yet the global problematiques do not go away.
Japan must show the resolve in trying to stop the global governance structures from disintegrating, one by one, and to maintain the momentum of tackling the really existing global issues. For all these, Europe is the key. Japan and Europe must jointly move to maintain the G7 as a meaningful forum. These two share the same orientations and concerns, while they have enhanced channels to cooperate through the Strategic Partnership Agreement as well as the Economic Partnership Agreement. The forthcoming G7 summit will be a litmus test whether the two sides could effectively mitigate the mounting uncertainties.