United States Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Japan on Sunday for a Group of Seven (G-7) meeting in Hiroshima, in the first-ever visit by a US Secretary of State to the city that was devastated by a US atomic bomb. Mr Kerry arrived at US military base, west of Hiroshima from Afghanistan after earlier stops in Iraq and Bahrain for the two-day G-7 meeting.
The gathering is part of the run-up to the G-7’s rotating annual summit, scheduled this year from May 26 to May 27 in the Ise-Shima region between Tokyo and Osaka. The Group of Seven industrialized countries includes Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan. The Hiroshima meeting begins on Sunday and will also include top diplomats from host Japan along with the European Union.
The US secretary of state, Britain’s Philip Hammond, France’s Jean-Marc Ayrault and other ministers are set to discuss issues including the Middle East, the refugee crisis, the conflict in Ukraine and global terrorism. Some of the European members hope to discuss security challenges in the aftermath of recent terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris.
Japan also hopes to highlight other concerns, such as rising territorial tensions in the South China Sea where China and some Southeast Asian nations have clashed, and North Korea’s nuclear sabre-rattling.
When asked about its place under Washington’s nuclear umbrella, Japanese foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said ahead of the meeting that Japan is aware of the world’s security realities, citing North Korea as a key threat.
Mr Kerry’s trip is seen as possibly clearing the way for President Barack Obama to become the first serving US president to make a journey to Japan in May when he visits Japan for the G-7 Summit.
“Gatherings, such as this one are important opportunities to help us address urgent international political and security concerns and to speak with one, clear voice on concrete actions needed,” said Kerry.
But what has overshadowed the broader diplomatic agenda is the symbolism of the location of the meeting. It seems to have captured the imagination of the Japanese public. Japanese hope it will promote greater understanding of Japan’s staunch anti-nuclear stance as it being the only country to suffer atomic attack.
The first American bomb on August 6, 1945, killed 140,000 people in Hiroshima, including survivors of the explosion who died afterwards from severe radiation exposure. Three days later another blast killed some 74,000 people in Nagasaki. Japan gave up the fight six days after Nagasaki, forswearing militarism and reinventing itself as an economic dynamo – protected, ironically, by the nuclear-armed United States.
During his stay in Hiroshima, Mr Kerry and other G-7 foreign ministers are scheduled to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, which houses the ruins of the iconic domed building gutted by the blast, and a museum dedicated to the Aug 6, 1945 destruction of the city by an American atomic bomb at the end of WWII. The park has become a symbol of nuclear disarmament.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner mentioned that Kerry’s intention for visiting the memorial is to ‘recognize the huge loss of life’ that occurred during the war.
Japanese foreign minister Fumio Kishida, who represents Hiroshima in parliament, also hopes to issue a ‘Hiroshima Declaration’ at the meeting to promote nuclear disarmament.
“On this occasion, I want to send a strong message for peace and to realize a world free of nuclear weapons,” Kishida said at a welcome reception. “It is also an acknowledgement that since the end of World War II that the United States and Japan have become the closest of friends and strong allies,” he added.
“Being in this city, it will help us carry out a message of peace and disarmament in the world,” said Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni.
Washington hopes to use Kerry’s visit to stress the tragedy of the war and highlight Obama’s anti-nuclear stance, expressed in a famous speech in Prague in 2009.
In an interview with a Hiroshima newspaper (Chugoku Shimbun), Kerry said most global threats to international peace require collective action.
“We can never separate disarmament from the global security environment or strategic stability considerations, or divorce it from our security commitments to friends and allies,” Kerry said in a written interview with the Hiroshima-based Chugoku Shimbun newspaper.
“Progress on nuclear disarmament must be made in a way that reduces nuclear and security risks for ourselves, our allies and all humankind,” it added.