As the leaders of the Group of 7 developed economies gather in Japan, China is currying favor with "the Stans" at its own summit designed to bolster its influence in central Asia.
The G7 Summit starts Friday in Hiroshima, and runs through Sunday. Japan, which holds the rotating presidency of the G7 this year, has made a pointed choice of city, the first-ever target of a wartime nuclear weapon. Tensions surrounding the rising influence of dictatorships like China and Russia are an overt topic that the leaders are seeking to address.
Besides China and Russia, the heads of the G7 countries -- Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States -- will for the first time discuss the growth of Artificial Intelligence, and how it fits in democratic societies. The European Union also attends as an affiliate member, while Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, South Korea and Vietnam are invited to participate at this summit as guests.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is engaging in a whirlwind round of bilateral meetings that began when he met with Italian President Giorgia Meloni on Thursday afternoon and then spent an hour with U.S. President Joe Biden. Kishida then held a working dinner with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak last night. Japan has also been holding bilateral meetings with France, Germany and Canada today.
Although Kishida was born in Tokyo, his family is from Hiroshima, and that's where he first won political office. He still calls Hiroshima his "home town," and promises that nuclear nonproliferation will be on the docket for discussion. Kishida will accompany Biden as he visits the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and atomic-bomb dome.
The summit will also address the climate, food security, improving relations with the "Global South" and the need to strengthen a "free and open" Indo-Pacific region. When it comes to AI, though, it's unlikely there will be much of significance agreed beyond boilerplate language of concern on the issue. The G7 has previously failed to deliver any progress of note on similar issues such as cybersecurity and the use of cyberweapons.
Biden is returning the favor after Kishida came calling in Washington in January. In Japan, the two men Thursday stressed the importance of the Japan-U.S. Alliance for "peace and stability" in the Indo-Pacific region, with specific mention of the need to cooperate on issues surrounding China, North Korea, and Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
On the economic front, Japanese and U.S. universities plan to sign a series of partnerships to cooperate in fields such as quantum physics, semiconductors, biotech and AI. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is furthest along, with Kishida noting MIT is conducting a feasibility study about setting up a "Global Startup Campus" in Tokyo to work on innovation and Deep Tech.
Meantime, Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday called on his nation to work with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to "fully unleash" their potential through trade coupled with economic and infrastructure cooperation.
Xi is playing host to the heads of the five nations at the two-day China-Central Asia Summit in the central Chinese city of Xian. Notably, Xian was the capital for the first united China way back in 221 BC, after the conquering of the other six "Warring States" led to the creation of the Qin empire.
Xi's comments revisit the theme of the "Belt and Road Initiative" originally established by China to develop new versions of the Silk Road, trade and infrastructure routes from China across Central Asia and ultimately on into Eastern and Western Europe.
On Friday, Xi pledged that China will expand its rail and highway links with Central Asia and proposed the formation of a China-Central Asia energy-development partnership, presumably so Chinese companies can joint venture with local partners to extract oil and gas. Xi said he would encourage Chinese trading companies to set up warehouses in Central Asia, too, while Beijing would look to simplify trade rules.
China says its trade with Central Asia climbed to US$70 billion last year, and rose 22% year on year in Q1 this year. Xi pledged US$3.7 billion in "financing support and free assistance" to the region, as China looks to expand its influence in these former Soviet states while Russia is focused on the war in Ukraine.
Biden has disappointed Australia and Papua New Guinea by cancelling a planned trip to the two nations so he can return quicker to Washington and continue frankly interminable and completely avoidable negotiations on the U.S. debt ceiling. "PNG" had even declared a national holiday in honor of Biden's visit, which would have been the first visit to any Pacific Island nation by a sitting U.S. president.
Pulling out of the PNG visit weakens U.S. influence in the Pacific at a time that China has been buddying up to nations such as the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea's neighbor. The leaders of the other 17 nations in the Pacific Islands Forum had all planned travel to meet for a few hours with Biden in Port Moresby, the PNG capital.
Biden will also miss out on an intended meeting in Australia of the leaders of "the Quad" group of Asia Pacific democracies. Domestic U.S. party-political squabbling vs. the security of the Asia Pacific region? It seems Biden is doomed to waste his time attending talks droning on over funding the U.S. government, which must (and of course, eventually will) avoid the first debt default in U.S. financial history.
While the Quad leaders will attempt to meet on the sidelines of the Hiroshima summit instead, Biden pulling out of the PNG visit could have longer-lasting implications in the Pacific. Some of those small nations had started to doubt the U.S. commitment to Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia, while China has been expanding its police presence in the region while its companies expand with Pacific mining and construction.
After a period of U.S. inaction in the region, Biden attempted to repair those relationships with the U.S.-Pacific Islands Partnership, signed at the first-ever U.S. summit with Pacific Island nations in Washington last September. This latest setback casts doubt on U.S. commitment to those relationships once again. Does Washington only care about those nations when China plays its hand?