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G7: Ukraine dominates last day of 'successful' summit

William Yang in Hiroshima
May 21, 2023

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy took center stage on the last day of the G7 summit in Japan as leaders committed to unified approach to tackling Russia and China.

President Joe Biden, fourth left, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, fifth right, and other G7 leaders pose for a photo before a working session on Ukraine during the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan, Sunday, May 21, 2023. Other leaders from right to left, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, France's President Emmanuel Macron, Zelenskyy, Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and European Council President Charles Michel and Gianluigi Benedetti, Italian ambassador to Japan.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appealed for support during his surprise visit to the G7 summitImage: (Kyodo News/AP)/picture alliance

Although Ukraine isn't one of the G7 member states, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy stole much of the limelight on the final day of the three-day summit held in the Japanese city of Hiroshima.

During a speech at the Hiroshima Memorial Park, Zelenskyy, wearing a black shirt rather than the sleek suit of other world leaders present here, reiterated how important it is for the world to hear Ukrainian people calling for "unity" from Hiroshima, the city that had been rebuilt after the US atomic bomb attack in 1945.

In a strongly worded and spirited speech made in Ukrainian, he said pictures in the museum in Hiroshima remind him of Bakhmut, where there is "absolutely nothing alive" and "all the buildings are destroyed." He thanked Japan for displaying Ukrainian flags across Hiroshima, and he said as long as there is a Ukrainian flag, there is hope. 

Zelenskyy's appeals for support at the summit, where he arrived on Saturday, have received positive responses, with US President Joe Biden revealing an additional $375 million (€347 million) military aid package for Ukraine, while other G7 leaders pledged continued support for the war-torn country.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (L) and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy lay a bouquet of flowers at the Cenotaph for the Victims of the Atomic Bomb in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park on May 21, 2023.
Japanese PM Kishida said the G7 reaffirmed that "there is no winner in a nuclear war" Image: Naoya Azuma/The Yomiuri Shimbun/AP/picture alliance

'No winner in a nuclear war'

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, speaking under a clear blue sky at the summit's solemn closing ceremony, said it's "significant" that the G7 showed solidarity by inviting Zelenskyy.

Kishida began his speech by referencing the symbolic importance of holding the summit at Hiroshima. With the Hiroshima dome — the only building left standing near where the atomic bomb exploded in Hiroshima — visible in the distance behind him, Kishida said the G7 reaffirmed that "there is no winner in a nuclear war," and a nuclear war must "never be fought."

As one of the very few Asian countries that has displayed unwavering support for Ukraine since the start of the war, Japan has made G7 "quite a success" on many levels, said Asia analyst Sari Arho Havren, a visiting researcher at the University of Helsinki. By inviting Zelenskyy to the summit, Havren said Kishida has bolstered his domestic support while using the summit to lift Japan's profile among like-minded countries.

Japanese journalist Takehiro Masutomo, who was covering the summit, commended Kishida for creating rare opportunities for Zelenskyy to engage with world leaders who could potentially play an important role in facilitating possible talks between Kyiv and Moscow. Overall, Masutomo said Japanese people view the summit's outcome as a "success" for Kishida.

Sideline meetings assume vital importance

One of the highly anticipated events during the G7 Summit was the first in-person meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Zelenskyy since Russia invaded Ukraine last February.

India has previously been reluctant to condemn the Russian invasion, and its ongoing economic ties with Russia have come under international scrutiny. However, at Saturday's meeting with Zelenskyy, Modi promised that India would do everything it can to help bring the conflict to an end. The war has many effects on the world, he said, and is not just an issue of the economy or politics, but "an issue of humanity."

Modi's willingness to meet Zelenskyy shows that India may be rethinking its position on the ongoing conflict, said political scientist Ian Chong from the National University of Singapore.

As for Zelenskyy, the chance to engage with Modi in person may open up the option of India acting as a bridge between Russia and Ukraine, Chong told DW. The meeting also reminds China that it's not the "only option on the table" for Ukraine and Russia, he said.

In recent months, China has been actively trying to present itself as a peacemaker in the ongoing war in Ukraine. China put forward a 12-point plan in February and in the following months, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has met Russian President Vladimir Putin and held a phone call with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy. However, Beijing's "no limits partnership" with Russia makes its credibility as a mediator questionable to many countries.

Dealing with China

While topic of Ukraine has dominated the Hiroshima summit, G7 leaders also formed a united response to a wide range of concerns about China, from Beijing's increasing militarization to its use of economic coercion around the world to meet its political goals.

In a communique released on Saturday, the G7 heads of state expressed serious concerns about China's military activities in South China Sea and East China Sea and called for peaceful resolutions to the rising tension across the Taiwan Strait.

At the same time, they expressed their desire to build "constructive and stable relations" with China, while emphasizing that major democracies around the world need to express their concerns directly to China.

The G7 agreement that Beijing is indispensable to tackling global challenges is a "positive geostrategic approach" to China, said Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy, an assistant professor at the National Dong Hwa University in Taiwan.

This will no doubt reassure many nations across the globe who are worried about being forced to pick sides in an ever-more intense competition between China and the United States, she said.

G7 communique angers Beijing

To reiterate their goal of "de-risking" but not "decoupling" from China economically, G7 member states also underlined that their economic policies aren't designed to "thwart" China's economic progress and development.

However, the bloc also vowed to counter challenges posed by "non-market policies and practices," including forced technology transfer and data disclosure, which they said has distorted the global economy. G7 leaders recognized the importance for the countries to cultivate resilience to economic coercion.

In a separate document, G7 leaders acknowledged a disturbing rise in incidents related to economic coercion in general, and they promised to set up protocols to improve the bloc's assessment, preparedness, and response" to economic coercion.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry hit back at the G7 communique, saying the bloc's approach has "no international credibility and accused the group of "hindering world peace."

US President Joe Biden, Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Council Charles Michel, Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, France's President Emmanuel Macron and Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida attend a working lunch meeting at G7 leaders' summit in Hiroshima, western Japan May 19, 2023.
G7 member states reiterated their goal of "de-risking" but not "decoupling" from China economicallyImage: KYODO via REUTERS

Given the fact that these countries have different interests and different levels of economic engagement with China, the coordination and unity that was reflected through the statements is a "big deal," said Dexter Roberts, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Indo-Pacific Security Initiative. China's angry response shows the G7 communique "struck a nerve" in Beijing, he added.

With G7 leaders hoping to find common ground on their responses to challenges posed by autocratic states like China and Russia, political scientist Chong thinks the summit has largely achieved this goal.

What's more important will be how G7 member states translate this consensus into actions in the future. "The question is how these different countries execute what they pledged and whether the efforts to implement those pledges actually gel together," Chong said.

Edited by: Kate Hairsine