Obama’s words in Hiroshima, however fine, cannot cover up the failures of the G7 summit

Kevin Rafferty says aside from the US president’s moving speech, there was little good to come out of the meeting of world leaders, not least the unhelpful ‘strong message’ to China on the South China Sea

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 June, 2016, 12:42pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 June, 2016, 12:42pm

US President Barack Obama got his words at Hiroshima exactly right in describing the horror and continuing threat of nuclear weapons. “A flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself. He called for a “moral awakening ... the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without [nuclear weapons]”.

Obama’s visit to Hiroshima must be followed up by action to reduce stockpile of nuclear weapons

Yet, once again, Obama proved that his eloquence doesn’t add up to a policy that will bring change. He departed after tears and hugs with hibakusha victims of the atomic bombing with nothing much changed. Actually, several things changed for the worse: the Ise-Shima gathering of the G7 leaders wasted pots of money for no agreement; by their continuing exclusion of China and India, leaders demonstrated a damaging stupidity; and allowing Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to play his election games with the summit handed a diplomatic advantage to China.

G7 leaders express ‘concern’ about East and South China Sea disputes in closing statement

Obama did not escape criticism. Apologists for Imperial Japan wanted an apology for the atomic bombings, which Obama had indicated he would not give.

Abe blatantly used the G7 meeting as a platform for the upper house elections in July. Throughout the summit week, CNN ran ads heralding the work of Japanese scientists, doctors, engineers, agriculturalists and soldiers in Germany, India, Indonesia, Kenya and South Sudan, helping people walk again with robotic limbs, building railways and laying sewers, promoting new crops and keeping the peace. Fair enough to show how Japan helps the world, but each video closed with a smiling picture of Abe, as if he were the autocrat responsible for it all.

How Shinzo Abe has tailored the G7 programme to serve his ambitions at home

Japan led G7 discussions that ended in agreement to send “a clear signal” to China against maritime excursions in the disputed waters of the South and East China seas. Beijing, of course, protested. It would have been potentially more constructive to include China in the discussions.

The nonsense of excluding China is underlined because Beijing is chairing the G20 this year and intends to use it to demonstrate that it can offer global outreach. Foreign minister Wang Yi ( 王毅 ) described the September meeting in Hangzhou ( 杭州 ) as “the world’s most closely watched economic summit”. Last week, he claimed that though Hiroshima is worthy of attention, Nanjing (南京), where Japanese troops massacred civilians in December 1937, “should not be forgotten”. Abe himself may get a chance to reflect on Nanjing. China has indicated that G20 leaders, including Japan, will be invited to the site of the massacre. In diplomacy and international leadership, Abe and Japan have a lot to learn.

Kevin Rafferty is a political commentator