On the South China Sea, it’s the G7 that’s being ‘provocative’

Meeting of foreign ministers of advanced economies wrong to drag territorial disputes into their forum when there are so many more pressing issues

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 April, 2016, 11:43pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 May, 2016, 4:39pm

The South China Sea was bound to be on the agenda at this year’s gathering in Japan of foreign ministers of the Group of Seven advanced economies. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government rarely misses a chance to give international prominence to disputes with China and the two-day meeting presented the perfect opportunity. But the issue is of regional, not global, concern, nor should it even involve Tokyo or the other members of the G7 bloc. With the world threatened by a host of economic and security problems, time should have been used more productively.

A statement was issued by the G7 along with its final communique opposing “provocative actions” in the South China Sea. But the wording was ambiguous, alluding to China, although not mentioning it by name. While Washington is also a member of the grouping and backs Tokyo’s stand on territorial disputes with Beijing, the lack of a direct Chinese mention revealed sensitivities among others in the bloc. That should be the case; the world’s leading economies need to be working together, not against one another. China has, after all, the second-most important global economy and strong trade links with all of the G7 nations. They need to communicate and cooperate with one another, not be antagonistic. To hijack a forum, as Japan has tried to do with the meeting in Hiroshima, is harmful to relations. The annual G7 summit of leaders will be held in the Japanese city of Ise next month and it is in the interests of no one that there is a repeat.

There are a host of more pressing matters, many of them broached in the foreign ministers’ discussions. North Korea’s nuclear and missile proliferation was the subject of another statement, and a document called the “Hiroshima Declaration” was issued, reaffirming a commitment to creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons. Terrorism, refugees, Iraq, Libya, Syria, corruption and climate change were among matters also dealt with. Members can talk about whatever they like, but the credibility of their group depends on being able to address issues in a balanced manner.

Circumstances have changed since the bloc was created amid financial turmoil in the mid-1970s. Its prominence is increasingly being usurped by the Group of 20, which includes China and other fast-developing nations; their summit will be in Hangzhou (杭州) in September. Such gatherings will be relevant and effective only by staying focused on important global issues and ignoring the demands of self-interested parties.