Leaders of the Group of Seven are meeting in the southern Japanese city of Hiroshima for their annual summit from May 19-21.
They are expected to discuss not only economics, but politics, and Russia’s February 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine. China, which has become increasingly assertive in its claims in the disputed South China Sea and over self-ruled Taiwan, is also likely to be an issue along with North Korea’s weapons testing.
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Here’s a look at the G7 and what to expect:
What is the G7 Summit?
The G7 is an informal group of leading industrialised democracies with no permanent secretariat or legal status. It consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The group was founded – as the G6 – following the 1973 oil crisis as a forum for the richest nations to discuss global economic issues. Its countries have a combined annual gross domestic product (GDP) of $40 trillion – making up just under half the world economy.
The founding members held their first summit in 1975 in France to discuss how to tackle the deep recession that followed the embargo imposed by the oil production cartel, OPEC. Canada became the seventh member a year later.
Russia joined to form the G8 in 1998, but was expelled after Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
The presidency of the summits revolves among the seven members, and this year it is Japan’s turn to host. In 2024, it will be Italy.
Two representatives of the European Union (EU) also join, and it has become customary in recent years for leaders from some non-G7 countries and international organisations to take part in some sessions.
The leaders discuss a wide range of issues, including economic policy, security, climate change, energy and gender.
Who is attending?
This year, the leaders of Australia, Brazil, Comoros (chair of the African Union), Cook Islands (chair of the Pacific Islands Forum), India (G20 president), Indonesia (chair of Association of Southeast Asian Nations), South Korea and Vietnam are invited, reflecting Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s stress on the importance of reaching out to developing countries, as well as US allies and partners.
The invitations to leaders outside of the G7 are meant to extend cooperation to a broader range of countries.
But the economic expansion of nations including Brazil, China and India (all members of the BRICS grouping which also includes Russia and South Africa) has raised questions about the G7′s relevance and its role in leading a world economy that is increasingly reliant on growth beyond the wealthiest nations.
Leaders of the United Nations, the International Energy Agency, the International Monetary Fund, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the World Bank, the World Health Organization and the World Trade Organization are also on the guest list.
What will be discussed?
The summit comes just days after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy completed a whirlwind trip around Europe to meet a number of the G7 leaders.
Zelenskyy’s tour was aimed at building political support ahead of a widely anticipated counteroffensive to reclaim lands occupied by Moscow’s forces, and securing new weapons commitments.
G7 leaders are expected to strongly condemn Russia’s war on Ukraine while pledging their continuing support for Ukraine. Zelenskyy will join the session via the internet.
“Support for Ukraine and sanctions against Russia will be the main topics of discussion,” Japan’s Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki told a news conference. “We will continue to closely coordinate with G7 and the international community to enhance the effect of sanctions to achieve the ultimate goal of prompting Russia to withdraw.”
There will also be a focus on Beijing’s escalating threats against Taiwan, the self-governing democratic island Beijing claims as its own, and ways to reduce Western democracies’ economic and supply chain dependency on China.
The seven leaders have also signalled that China’s use of punitive trade measures will be high on the agenda of the three-day annual summit.
China’s use of coercive economic moves has been an issue of growing concern in the Asia Pacific and Europe in recent years, with Japan, South Korea, Australia and Lithuania all facing trade restrictions following disputes with Beijing on issues ranging from the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic to Taiwan.
For developing nations, including many former colonies of Western powers with varied views on and ties to Russia and China, the G7 is set to offer more support in health, food security and infrastructure to help underpin closer ties.
Developed countries promised in 2009 to transfer $100bn annually between 2020 and 2025 to vulnerable states hit by increasingly severe climate-linked impacts and disasters – but that target was never met.
Rich G7 nations owe poor ones an estimated $13 trillion in unpaid development aid as well as support in the fight against climate change, according to the British NGO Oxfam.
Not originally on the agenda, the rapid growth of generative artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot ChatGPT means G7 leaders can no longer ignore the issues it raises.
In April, Kishida met the CEO of OpenAI, which developed the ChatGPT service, and EU legislators have urged G7 leaders to find ways to control its development.
G7 digital ministers agreed in April they should adopt “risk-based” regulation on AI.
Choice of venue
Hiroshima is Kishida’s hometown, and known throughout the world as the first city to be hit by a nuclear weapon. The 1945 bombing helped end World War II, but devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing thousands of civilians.
Kishida’s choice of venue reflects his determination to put nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation at the top of the summit’s agenda.
A path to nuclear disarmament has appeared more difficult with Russia’s recent nuclear weapons threats in Ukraine, as well as North Korea’s repeated ballistic missile tests and Iran’s expansion of its nuclear programme.
“I can’t say that the G7 will resolve these non-proliferation crises, but without a coherent position from the G7 we have no chance,” a senior G7 diplomat told the Reuters news agency.
Kishida on Friday will welcome arriving leaders at the Hiroshima Peace Park, the city’s commercial and political heart at the time the bomb was dropped. He also plans to escort the leaders to the A-bomb museum, in the first group visit involving the heads of some of the world’s nuclear-armed states. There might also be a meeting with atomic bomb survivors.
“I believe the first step toward any nuclear disarmament effort is to provide a firsthand experience of the consequences of the atomic bombing and to firmly convey the reality,” Kishida said last Saturday during a visit to Hiroshima to observe the summit preparations.
On the sidelines
Kishida, US President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol are expected to hold a trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Hiroshima summit to discuss North Korea, China’s assertiveness and Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Kishida and Yoon will pay their respects together at a Hiroshima memorial for Korean atomic bomb victims in a trust-building gesture as the two countries repair ties strained by disputes stemming from Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
Yoon was invited to the summit as one of eight outreach nations.
Protests have also taken place in the run-up to the summit,