Our geopolitical columnist Yves Carmona, former Ambassador of France to Laos and Nepal, is a connoisseur of Japan. He returns to the G7 summit recently organized in Hiroshima.
By Yves Carmona
Writing about ASEAN, the G7 and the G20 at the same time may seem strange but in fact is less so than one might think, for several reasons.
Japan succeeded in Hiroshima, from May 17 to 21, without boasting of a convergence examined in the chancelleries for decades but never formally achieved: the G7, which was created in 1975 with the 7 most industrialized countries at the time, including the second largest economy in the world, and the G20, which already existed at the level of finance ministers and central bank governors, was raised to the top in 2008 to resolve the systemic crisis of the global economy at the highest level. Indeed, the seriousness of it seemed such following the bankruptcy of the “subprimes” that this initially local crisis almost took everything away.
The only Asian member of the G7 and loving to boast about it, Japan, president in 2023, has also invited several member countries by right of the G20, including Asians: India, Indonesia, South Korea, but also Australia, a country from South America like Brazil, and for good measure islands like the Comoros (president of the African Union) and the Cook Islands, President of the Pacific forum.
On the other hand, “The elephant in the room” as the Anglo-Saxons like to say, it lacked a great Asian power: China. Who was not mistaken in denouncing the “containment” that meant his non-invitation and his mention in points 51 and 52 of the final press release. The discussion must have been difficult because the opinion on China is very balanced: the first mention is made of the desire for constructive relations and the need to cooperate. But the call for peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, the human rights concerns in Tibet and Sinkiang, the reference to disputes in the South China Sea have displeased Beijing enough to denounce them. It should also be noted that she is asked to put pressure on Russia to withdraw unconditionally from Ukraine.
It is therefore an exercise in global diplomacy that Japan has been able to stage this year. The ASEAN-G7 convergence has been instrumentalized in this direction: Indonesia before India chaired, with greater efficiency than usual, the G20 in 2022.
A recent panel discussion organized by a Think Tank on the topic “Will the G20 survive the age of geopolitical rivalries?” notes that Indonesia has eased a difficult discussion given the number of participants, but necessary because the G7 is too small – a club of wealthy Westerners while the “global South” demands a greater share in decisions.
This is particularly true of high-tech companies, whether submarine cables, semiconductors, but also “green technologies” supposed to allow agriculture to adapt to climate change.
The world is always less predictable and companies don’t like it. Almost overnight, they have to adapt their value chains (“supply chains”) to the sanctions taken against Russia but also against Iran. Non-Westerns, in particular India, have a good time denouncing its hypocrisy by focusing only on Ukraine while the Third World is the victim of the food crisis.
Other G20 experts note that there are too many people in the eyes of the “global South” whose members primarily pursue their national interests and that these are not always convergent.
However, they point out that the multilateral institutions (WTO, WHO, etc.) no longer play their role – Trump has something to do with it – and let the Security Council decide everything, therefore (right of veto) decide nothing. Would the right measure for a renovated “directory” be between 7 and 20? We have been looking for decades…
To return to Southeast Asia, despite its growth, Indonesia is not immune to major geopolitical errors.
It was due to host the Under-20 World Cup this year and had won against several other candidate countries. 6 cities were preparing to welcome the teams. Alas, among them was that of Israel, but Indonesia has no diplomatic relations with this country, already stigmatized by President Soekarno and very recently by Islamist parties and elected officials from the towns concerned. Paradoxically, Indonesia has shown itself to be more radical than the four Arab States: Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Sudan, which have signed the Abraham Accords, peace treaties which provide for the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel, an initiative of US President Donald Trump continued by the current US administration.
It is that in a discreet way, the diplomatic issue is set aside when trade relations (several hundred million USD), including armaments, require it. Football fans, frustrated with great competition, did not measure up.
Besides, which other ASEAN member countries could join this new club? The most prosperous economy is Singapore but the city-state is mainly interested in doing business. Vietnam could well claim to access it because it is experiencing strong growth (6.6% officially in 2021), only there is a difficulty: like other one-party regimes, it does not correspond to democratic standards and more broadly to respect of human rights that the two clubs are supposed to defend.
Democracy is very rare in Southeast Asia; even Thailand, which seems to be emerging from the Covid crisis, could therefore experience growth of 3.5% in 2023, especially because the Chinese are again allowed to travel. One of Southeast Asia’s most prosperous economies, it is between two rounds of general elections, apparently lost by coup plotter Prime Minister-General Prayut but clearly now was not the time; as for the Philippines, another uninvited “democratic” state, there were other means, so great was the influence of North Asia throughout this region, to send messages to it.
Because the archipelago, ubiquitous in Southeast Asia, follows the economic theory formulated in the 1930s by the economist Akamatsu Kaname, “the flight of wild geese”: a country (Japan, of course, for a long time) is the leader in the flight and those who are behind industrialize under this domination. Since then, China but also South Korea have been vying for leadership with the archipelago, depending on the sector, whose industries contribute largely to the prosperity of Southeast Asia.
It should be noted that ASEAN as an organization was not in Hiroshima, an additional sign of its powerlessness to resolve the difficulties between its members, whereas the EEC and then the EU have been members of the G7 for decades.
As for Prime Minister Kishida, he has posed as a pillar of world diplomacy and the arrival of Ukrainian President Zelensky, who has held the spotlight, has contributed to this, even though the countries of the South do not want Westerners to focus on the ”Ukraine. Announced by rumor and then carried out after a brief stint by the Arab League in Saudi Arabia, this visit had the main objective of countering its Russian aggressor, of course not invited.
For President Zelensky, a man of the media before being the President of a courageous country, Hiroshima was the place to be.
The family photo, the one that will be remembered in the history of the G7, was taken on the site of the first nuclear bombardment in history on September 9, 1945, which made it possible to formulate with more force the request for the suppression of the atomic threat, in the presence of 3 nuclear powers – United States, United Kingdom and France – which in the circumstances could not escape; message with regard to Russia, which has brandished this threat on several occasions and which several guests have avoided condemning until now.
Indian President Modi, whose country shamelessly takes advantage of Western sanctions by facilitating their circumvention, and Brazilian President Lula, no doubt exasperated by American omnipresence in South America, are two important leaders of this tendency not to want to be bound by a war perceived as Western.
Another geopolitical crisis was also mentioned in the final declaration: Taiwan.
For Japan, which like many people wants above all to maintain the status quo rather than war, it is a question of avoiding being dragged into an open conflict where it would have a lot to lose for at least three reasons.
– The first defenders of Taiwan would be Washington. It is as if by chance from Hiroshima that President Biden declared that he would allow European countries holding American F16s to re-export them to Ukraine (against F35s purchased in the United States), or the military bases closest to rebel island are in Japan. How would this one stay away?
– The semiconductor manufacturer Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) produces 60 to 80% of the most sophisticated semiconductors (with, among others, a French subsidiary of the CEA established in Singapore); Japan is particularly dependent on it for its vehicles, electronic devices, etc. A war would jeopardize all this, which is also a reason why China, despite its threats, refrains from attacking for the moment: it too is particularly dependent on it.
– Finally, it is the world economy, whose weaknesses are well known, which would suffer from a war.
But it’s not just geopolitical strategy.
Other posts have helped portray Japan as a contributor to solving major global issues. Mr. Kishida received the CEOs of major companies just before the G7.
He must take responsibility for a strategy on artificial intelligence, “fake news”, the fairness of information. It is his Minister of Digitalization, who was beaten for access to the post of Prime Minister, Kono Taro, who said so in a recent interview with Mainichi Shimbun.
In the aftermath of the G7, the Japanese media, noting that Mr. Kishida had succeeded in his exercise of global presence, which enabled his popularity rating to rise sharply, speculated on an early dissolution and triumphant elections for the PLD, his party which has dominated the scene since the post-war period.
A personal remark to end.
It becomes difficult to separate what concerns one country and what concerns everyone. Conversely, it is the poorest, and therefore the most isolated, who have suffered the least from the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
But climate change does not care about borders and it would be illusory to pretend to escape it.
Is globalization, so decried in recent years, back?