Global economic woes and China's claims to the South China Sea have set the tone at the G7 summit in Japan. Overshadowing the annual event is a planned visit to Hiroshima by US President Barack Obama.
Japan welcomed leaders of G7 nations to its Pacific resort of Ise-Shima on Thursday by highlighting Japanese exports of "quality infrastructure" and expertise as its answer to global troubles.
Absent as potential extra guests at the annual gathering of the Group of Seven advanced economies were Japan's neighbors and rivals, Russia and China.
China - the world's flagging but second-biggest economy - has disputes with numerous Asian nations over islands in the South China Sea. Russia, whose eastern seaboard neighbors Japan, remains at odds with Western G7 members since it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
Scene-setter at Shinto site
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe opened the summit by taking fellow leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to the peninsula's Ise Shrine, the forested heartland of Japan's Shinto religion, 300 kilometers (200 miles) southwest of Tokyo.
"It is the place to present the beauty of nature and the richness of our culture and long tradition," said Japanese foreign ministry spokesman Yasuhisa Kawamura.
Also attending the summit are Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Japan calls for infrastructure spending
Kawamura added that Abe was keen to promote infrastructure exports such as gas and coal-fired power plants and bullet trains.
"We're very happy to share our experiences and expertise," he added.
Deputy chief cabinet secretary Horishige Seko later hinted that G7 leaders had remained divided over calls to stimulate the world economy - reflecting differences on fiscal policy apparent at a preceding G7 finance ministers' meeting held last week.
"G7 leaders voiced the view that emerging economies are in a severe situation, although there were views that the current economic situation is not a crisis," Seko said.
Japan had begun the summit by saying infrastructure projects should be boosted by $200 billion (179 billion euros), including loans for the building of roads, power plants and other infrastructure around the world.
Japan itself plans to spend about $6 billion on education, training and job creation for 20,000 people in the Middle East and improved schooling for girls in Africa and South Asia.
Alarm over migratory trends
Also attending the Ise-Shima summit, the European Council's president, Donald Tusk, urged G7 nations to help take a lead in managing the migrant crisis facing European nations.
"Those who criticize us should rather think how to increase their assistance because what Europe provides is already massive," Tusk said. "Honestly speaking, if they (the G7) don't take the lead in managing this crisis, nobody else will. I will appeal to G7 leaders to take up this challenge."
Germany's Merkel, however, said she didn't expect any concrete offers in the final communique from other G7 members to take in refugees.
Last year, some 1.3 million refugees, mostly from conflict-ridden Syria and Iraq, asked for asylum in the European Union, with more than a third of them in Germany.
On Tuesday, the Berlin-based Institute for Population and Development published a study saying that Middle East and northern African nations were failing to generate enough industrial jobs for expanding, demographically young populations.
"Unless society succeeds in offering these persons a perspective to find a job then the refugee numbers from the region will rise long-term," said Reiner Klingholz, the institute's director, adding that only 40 percent of this group was employed.
Infrastructure boost sought
During a break Thursday, G7 leaders were treated to a brief outing in Japanese self-driving cars.
European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker added that the possible exit from the European Union by Britain, hinging on its referendum in late June, was also hanging over the summit.
Alluding to November's US presidential election, Obama said leaders were "rattled" by the emergence of Donald Trump as the presumed Republican candidate.
Obama said "a lot" of Trump's utterances had displayed "either ignorance of world affairs, or a cavalier attitude or an interest in getting tweets and headlines."
Chinese media reacted to the summit with allergic comments on the South China Sea.
"The G7, in order not to become obsolete and even negatively affect global peace and stability, should mind its business rather than pointing fingers at others and fueling conflicts," said the China news agency Xinhua.
Focus on Hiroshima visit
After the summit, Obama will on Friday visit Hiroshima, becoming the first sitting US leader to travel to the site of the world's first nuclear attack, on August 6, 1945, by a US B-29 aircraft.
The four-ton uranium device killed tens of thousands of Japanese instantly. in total, 140,000 died, many from lingering nuclear radiation.
Obama said Wednesday that Hiroshima should be a reminder that the world needed to rid itself of nuclear weapons.
ipj/kms (AP, AFP, Reuters, epd)