By Julian Ryall
Tokyo-- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky flew into Japan just hours before the leaders of the Group of Seven Nations held their summit in the city of Hiroshima, his unexpected arrival ensuring that security and global security would dominate the discussions.
Zelensky’s arrival placed the Russian invasion of Ukraine squarely at the top of the agenda, but the expressions of united and unflinching support from the world’s most powerful nations were also unmistakably a warning to China as it continues to ratchet up tensions throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
In their joint statement issued on Saturday, the G-7 leaders emphasized that they pose no threat to China and only want “constructive and stable” relations with Beijing. The statement added that the G-7 are united in “recognizing the importance of engaging candidly with and expressing our concerns directly to China."
The statement also called on Beijing to use its influence over Russia “to stop its military aggression, and immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw its troops from Ukraine.” Pointedly, the statement encouraged China to “support a comprehensive, just and lasting peace based on territorial integrity and the principles and purposes of the UN charter.”
This passage is particularly significant as many nations have condemned China for unilaterally occupying and militarising a number of atolls and small islands in the South China Sea, all of which are also claimed as the sovereign territory of other nearby nations, including Vietnam and the Philippines.
China also has a number of other territorial disputes with neighboring states, claiming territory that is presently within the recognized borders of Japan, South Korea and India. Beijing is also refusing to be swayed from its position that Taiwan is an integral part of mainland China and the government reserves the right to use force to return it to the control of the Chinese Communist Party.
The G-7 leaders were united in expressing “serious concern” about the situations in the East and South China seas and reiterated calls for a peaceful resolution to China’s claims to Taiwan.
The statement also made it clear that the G-7 members would work together to resist “economic coercion” and that they would “counter malign practices, such as illegitimate technology transfer or data disclosure.”
There is little doubt that Beijing received the G-7’s message, with the state-run Xinhua news agency publishing an editorial describing the leaders’ attitudes as “superpower suppression” and accusing the US of being the greatest coercer of all.
Host Prime Minister Fumio Kishida used the occasion to hold a simultaneous meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which brings together Japan, the US, Australia and India as a regional bloc.
Unsurprisingly, the four nations’ leaders were in concert in their hopes for the future of the region, calling for responsible national competition and for states to work “transparently” with each other, but they also expressed their commitment to a region that is not subject to “intimidation and coercion” but based on international laws.
The Quad members’ comments will similarly not have been warmly received in Beijing, which is also smarting from news that NATO is planning to open a liaison office in Tokyo next year. The new office will be NATO’s first in Asia and will be charged with facilitating consultations between the 31-nation alliance and Japan as challenges to peace and security in the region worsen, the Nikkei Asia reported. The outstation will also be linked to other like-minded nations in Asia-Pacific, including Australia, New Zealand and South Korea.
More direct links with the European members of NATO will enable Japan to explain the threats posed to security in the Asia-Pacific region and the impacts that they could potentially have on those nations, said Robert Dujarric, co-director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at the Tokyo campus of Temple University,
“Japan wants to show that it is actively contributing to global security and Tokyo will see this new office as a way of ‘educating’ Europe about the threats that exist in this part of the world,” he said.
“Initially it will only be a one-person office, but that is a positive step and as Japan already works closely in a number of areas with European NATO states, this will add an extra layer of cooperation.
“For NATO, China is also a concern, as are North Korea and, increasingly, Russia, so this is a way of formally establishing a firmer link with the US’ most important non-NATO ally,” he said.
China has already indicated its displeasure at what it sees as a gathering of economic and military powers designed to curtail its ambitions in the region, whether that be in the form of the G-7, the Quad or NATO, and analysts will be watching how Beijing responds to these coordinated shots across its bow. Of particular interest will be whether it opts to increase assistance to Russia and North Korea to consolidate an alliance of convenience against what it sees as rivals at present but which could devolve into enemies.