G7 Summit in Hiroshima – European and Japanese Soft Power on Display
Japan's diplomatic success was evident in several aspects. Selecting Hiroshima as the venue for the Summit was a powerful statement advocating for a world without nuclear weapons. It provided ample opportunities for symbolic gestures aimed at pressuring Russia and denouncing the use or potential use of nuclear weapons. Japan showcased its convening power by inviting key pivotal States from the Global South, including the countries chairing the African Union and the Pacific Islands Summit, an inclusive approach reflected by Prime minister Kishida’s recent trips to South Korea, India and Africa. At the same time, as the sole representative of Asia, Japan also managed to put China front and center in the discussions and in the Final Communiqué. A stronger language was used emphasizing Taiwan's importance to international security and prosperity, and urging China to refrain from interference activities. The Japanese government also effectively handled the visit by President Zelenskyi and successfully organized the Quad summit at the last minute.
Europeans contributed to shape the international narrative on Ukraine, by facilitating the contact between M. Zelenskyi – who traveled in a French government airplane – and key countries of the Global South, still reluctant to condemn and sanction Russia. Europe's balanced triptych approach to China, which acknowledges Beijing as a partner, competitor, and systemic rival, while advocating for a de-risking strategy instead of complete decoupling, served as a guiding principle. Japan's own three-pillar approach to China, encompassing conditional engagement, counterweight, and deterrence, shared many similarities with the European stance. Tokyo actively collaborated with European partners to influence Washington towards achieving convergence and adopting a less confrontational approach towards Beijing. Finally, both the Europeans and the Japanese highlighted the need to counter narratives and disinformation put forth by revisionist powers.
Indeed, China (as well as Russia) is wooing developing States, counting on the appeal of its model, a combination of political authoritarianism and economic growth, but also on its financial firepower, notably via loans made through its Belt and Road Initiative. It is also exploiting the fatigue of a Global South that has grown tired of lectures from Western powers, who are perceived as being on the decline. In this context, China claims to represent a “new form of human civilization,” in the words of Xi Jinping.
Moreover, the contemporary landscape features a complex hybrid model, where the realm of soft power intersects with issues of security and hard power dynamics. This hybridization is exemplified by the proliferation of disinformation campaigns, covert influence operations, and interference in the domestic affairs of other nations. Beyond the traditional realms of diplomacy and military confrontation, these activities directly impact national security, making soft power an integral component of a nation's defense strategy. Additionally, soft power plays a pivotal role in influencing key issues such as setting international standards, norms, and regulations, especially in emerging domains like the regulation of internet governance, artificial intelligence, and other new technologies. As the world grapples with the challenges posed by these rapidly evolving technologies, the ability to effectively utilize soft power becomes central to the quest for shaping a favorable global regulatory framework.
As a key normative power, the EU is a very active player in this regard. It shares values and interests with Japan, especially as the US have turned more inward-looking and focusing on their narrow national interests, rather than prioritizing multilateralism and inclusive norms. Both Europe and Japan encounter a common challenge in ensuring the preservation of a rules-based order that is essential for their ongoing existence. Additionally, they must explore avenues to reform global governance mechanisms in a manner that garners acceptance from a broader spectrum of nations, while continuing to enforce liberal principles. The recent G7 summit stood out for its inclusive approach, reaching out to countries in the Global South, and making concerted efforts to address urgent global issues. This underscored the renewed importance and influence of this gathering on the international stage.