With less than a month until the Group of Seven summit in Hiroshima, a senior Japanese diplomat has been intensifying preparations with other countries as a "sherpa" to lead the three-day meeting from May 19 to success.
Similar to the famed Sherpa guides of Nepal who help climbers scale the Himalayas, sherpas serve as personal assistants of the G-7 leaders and play key roles in ensuring the success of the summits.
In preparation for the summits, sherpas hold multiple conferences from the beginning of the year, to allow for adequate time for leaders to deepen discussions and reach agreements.
During the summit, only the G-7 heads of state or government and sherpas are allowed to enter the meeting room.
"Whether the summit ends successfully hinges on the role played by sherpas, who assume crucial responsibilities," a government official said.
Japan took over the G-7's presidency from Germany on Jan. 1. Last year, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida decided to host the summit in his home constituency of Hiroshima, the western city that was devastated by a U.S. atomic bomb in August 1945.
In Japan, the sherpa position is traditionally held by a senior deputy minister for foreign affairs in charge of the economy. This is a remnant of the initial purpose of the summit for leaders of developed nations to concentrate on discussing economic issues.
Keiichi Ono has been striving as sherpa to lay the groundwork for Kishida to pitch his vision of a world free of nuclear weapons amid fears that Russia may use them in Ukraine, government officials said.
Ono has also been making concerted efforts with Kishida to ramp up collaboration with the "Global South," referring to emerging and developing countries, most of which have tried to avoid taking sides over Russia's aggression against Ukraine, the officials said.
Kishida has invited Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Hiroshima summit. India, a key member of the Global South, has been reluctant to implement punitive measures against Russia as New Delhi is highly dependent on Moscow for military and energy supplies.
With the G-7 members bolstering economic sanctions on Russia, it is "not desirable" that the attendees at the summit would fail to show their solidarity to confront the Ukraine crisis, which erupted in February 2022, one of the officials said.
"Coordinating the interests of each nation before the summit would help facilitate discussions between leaders and provide an opportunity for Prime Minister Kishida to clearly convey his message that nuclear weapons should never be used again," he said.
Masaharu Kono, who was a sherpa to the Group of Eight Toyako summit in Japan's northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido in 2008 when Russia was part of the framework, said he spoke every month with his counterparts on around 200 topics to be addressed by the leaders.
"Seeking consensus among sherpas before the summit is important. But there are many issues that they cannot resolve" due to conflicting national interests, so such agendas are "left to their leaders, who consider the greater good of the world," Kono said.
"Ultimately, sherpas build friendly relations with one another. But before getting there, they have numerous intense and heated arguments," sometimes while drinking late at night, Kono said, adding that they can "become good friends thanks to passionate discussions."
What is required for sherpas is "resourcefulness" in navigating and concluding negotiations smoothly, given that they should "communicate with each other while comprehending the intentions of their leaders," he said.
The G-7 groups Britain, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and the United States, plus the European Union.
In January, Kishida made a weeklong trip to the G-7 countries other than Germany to talk with political leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden, in the run-up to the Hiroshima summit. He met with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Tokyo in March.
After visiting India, meanwhile, Kishida surprisingly traveled on March 21 to Kyiv for a meeting with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in which he pledged to continue supporting the Eastern European nation.
Kishida invited Zelenskyy to join the Hiroshima summit online, in a sign that Japan, which holds the presidency of the G-7 this year has been keen to demonstrate a strong commitment to maintaining the international order based on the rule of law.
On the first day of Japan's Golden Week holidays that began in late April, Kishida also embarked on a tour to Africa, marking his first visit to the region since taking office in October 2021, in an attempt to confirm cooperation with the Global South.
The annual gathering of the world's major economies was first held in 1975 at Rambouillet Castle in the suburbs of Paris to tackle a global recession triggered by the first oil crisis. Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States participated.
For the past decades, the summit has become a forum where the leaders of the countries sharing fundamental values such as freedom, democracy and human rights exchange views on global challenges ranging from climate change and poverty to security and gender equality.