The Group of Seven foreign ministers on Sunday agreed that unity between the major industrialized nations will be key in dealing with geopolitical issues in the Indo-Pacific, as China grows increasingly assertive in the region and North Korea continues to advance its missile and nuclear weapons programs.
The top diplomats took a bullet train from Tokyo to the resort town of Karuizawa in central Japan to attend the three-day meeting, where police officers were on high alert a day after Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was the apparent target of an attack involving an explosive device during his visit to western Japan.
Beginning with a working dinner, representatives from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States, plus the European Union, agreed that maintaining unity will be "extremely important" in addressing the various challenges in the Indo-Pacific, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.
While acknowledging the importance of building a "constructive and stable" relationship with China, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and his counterparts agreed that they are opposed to any unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force, it said.
As the holder of the rotating G-7 presidency this year, Japan would like the group to showcase the importance of a "free and open international order based on the rule of law," Hayashi was quoted as saying at the outset of the talks.
The meeting took place amid French President Emmanuel Macron facing criticism from some in the United States and Europe after he called for European "strategic autonomy" on the issue of Taiwan, a source of tension between Washington and Beijing.
Macron's remarks, which cautioned against being drawn into a Taiwan crisis, published on April 9 by media in France and elsewhere following his trip to China, came amid growing concern over China putting increasing pressure on the island. Beijing views Taiwan as a renegade province to be united with the mainland, by force if necessary.
Tensions over the self-ruled democratic island have also been fueled by a meeting between Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California earlier this month, with China carrying out military drills in response.
With the consternation caused by Macron's comments possibly in mind, the G-7 foreign ministers meeting in Karuizawa reaffirmed the importance of "peace and stability" across the Taiwan Strait, saying that doing so ensures the "safety and prosperity of international society," according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.
Ahead of the meeting, Hayashi held bilateral talks with his Italian counterpart Antonio Tajani, as the two countries are responsible for holding the G-7 chair for this year and next year, respectively. They reaffirmed the group's unity over Russia's war on Ukraine.
During the three-day meeting, the G-7 diplomats will also discuss stepping up collaboration with developing countries in the Global South, many of which have remained neutral over the conflict in Ukraine, as well as food security and climate change, according to Japanese government officials.
An outcome document is expected to be released on the final day.
The Karuizawa meeting is the second in a series of in-person G-7 ministerial meetings being held in Japan in the run-up to the summit in May in Hiroshima. Another meeting bringing together G-7 environment and energy ministers ended on Sunday in the northern city of Sapporo in Hokkaido.
Earlier on Sunday, Kishida vowed to ensure that the series of G-7 meetings will be conducted safely.
At the Karuizawa meeting, discussions to advance nuclear disarmament will also take place as momentum recedes in the wake of Russia's nuclear threats amid the Ukraine war and the threat posed by North Korea.
Kishida, who represents a constituency in Hiroshima that was devastated by a U.S. atomic bomb in the final days of World War II, hopes to pitch his signature vision of a world without nuclear weapons during the G-7 summit from May 19 to 21.
Hayashi is also planning to hold other bilateral meetings on the fringes of the G-7 foreign ministerial discussions, including with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, according to government sources.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has canceled his trip to Japan after testing positive for the coronavirus and was replaced by Enrique Mora, deputy secretary general for political affairs of the European External Action Service, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.