MILAN — Whether the West likes it or not, an old question has returned on the global stage: whether or not to reconstitute the former G8 by inviting Russia back in. The decision rests with Italy, the current holder of the rotating presidency of the Group of Seven and the host, in May, of the next G7 summit, to be held in Taormina, Sicily.
Any invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin must be discussed among the group's members in a debate squaring realpolitik against loyalty to coherent principles such as non-aggression. Regardless of the potential risks, it is in Italy's interest to try bringing Russia back into the fold.
The Sicily summit will come just a few months after Barack Obama's exit from the international arena, at a time when the very concept of Western unity is being questioned. The Western world's principles of common values and global governance are not shared by the world's larger emerging powers and "guided" democracies. The G7 has always considered itself the foremost protector of these values, with the admission of Russia in 1997 representing the final nail in the coffin of the Cold War.
The hope was that Russia's political and economic development could be shaped by Western principles. But Putin's annexation of Crimea in 2014 — a direct affront to the unifying principles of international law — provoked Russia's expulsion from the group. Russia's ejection was not just a political sanction but a moral reproach, with the Obama administration at the forefront of this decision.
It's not surprising that there is significant resistance to Russia's readmission, especially given Obama's insistence that liberal values and open markets be preserved at all costs. His successor, Donald Trump is still an unknown quantity, and it's unclear whether he values a united Western community as much as his predecessors did. He may have a surprise in store.
The question of resetting relations with Moscow has also created rifts within the European Union. The crucial importance of energy supplies is more vital to many EU members than pan-European solidarity in the face of Russian aggression, and Eastern European countries are further divided on the need to engage with Putin. Franco-German efforts to monopolize relations with Russia and resolve the conflict in Ukraine failed to form a coherent European foreign policy.
There are many countries that could take the lead in establishing warmer relations with Russia, a phenomenon potentially accelerated by the inauguration of the Putin-friendly President Trump. Germany is in pole position and will already host the Russian president at the G20 summit in Hamburg in July.
Regardless of whether Russia returns to the fold or not, a more fundamental question remains: How can the West encourage a transgressor of international law to change its conduct? The imposition of sanctions is an accepted method of punishing violators like Putin, but they require unity between the United States and its European allies. With the Trump administration this can no longer necessarily be counted on, or the response may take different forms than the comprehensive sanctions that existed before.
Despite Western vetoes and attempts at its exclusion, Russia has continued to present the West with its own facts on the ground: the Syrian crisis is a notable example. If President Trump refuses to toe the European line of sanctions against Moscow and instead chooses to deal with Putin on the basis of common interests, any resulting Russian-American agreement would bypass European capitals completely.
It's in Europe's interest, therefore, to seek common ground with Russia and accelerate a rapprochement. Rather than emboldening his behavior, inviting Putin to the summit in Taormina would present an invaluable opportunity for Italy to take the lead in solving global issues facing both the West and Russia.
Japan's new prime minister is facing the twin challenges of COVID-19 and regional tensions, and some wonder whether he can even last as long as his predecessor, who was forced out after barely one year.
TOKYO — When Fumio Kishida, Japan's new prime minister. introduced himself earlier this month, he announced that the three major projects of his premiership will be the control of the ongoing pandemic; a new type of capitalism; and national security.
Kishida also pledged to deal with China "as its neighbor, biggest trade partner and an important nation which Japan should continue to dialogue with."
Nothing too surprising. Still, it was a rapid turn of events that brought him to the top job, taking over for highly unpopular predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, who had suddenly announced his resignation from office.
After a fierce race, Kishida defeated Taro Kono to become the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and pave the way for the prime minister's job.
Born into politics
A key reason for Kishida's victory is the improving health situation, following Japan's fifth wave of the COVID pandemic that coincided with this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo.
The best way to describe Kishida is to compare him to a sponge: not the most interesting item in a kitchen, yet it can absorb problems and clean up muck. His slogan ("Leaders exist to make other people shine") reflects well his political philosophy.
He is an excellent actor.
Kishida was born into a political family: His grandfather and father were both parliament members. Between the ages of six to nine, he studied in New York because of his father's work at the time. He attended the most prestigious private secondary school — the Kaisei Academy, of which about half of its graduates go to the University of Tokyo.
However, after failing three times the entrance exam to , Kishida finally settled for Waseda University. Coming from a family where virtually all the men went to UTokyo, this was Kishida's first great failure in life.
An invitation for Obama
After he graduated from college, Kishida worked for five years in a bank before serving as secretary for his father, Fumitake Kishida. In 1992, his father suddenly died at the age of 65. The following year, Kishida inherited his father's legacy to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives for the Hiroshima constituency. Since then, he has been elected successfully nine straight times, and served as Shinzo Abe's foreign minister for four years, beginning in December 2012. A former subordinate of his from that time commented on Kishida:
"If we are to sum him up in one sentence, he is an excellent actor. Whenever he was meeting his peers from other countries, we would remind him what should be emphasized, or when a firm, unyielding 'No' was necessary, and so on ... At the meetings, he would then put on his best show, just like an actor."
According to some insiders, during this period as foreign minister, his toughest stance was on nuclear weapons. This is due to the fact that his family hails from Hiroshima.
In 2016, following his suggestion, the G7 Ise-Shima Summit was held in Hiroshima, which meant that President Barack Obama visited the city — the first visit by a U.S. president to Hiroshima, where 118,661 lives were annihilated by the U.S. atomic bomb.
Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida in Hiroshima in 2016commons.wikimedia.org
In September, 2020 when Shinzo Abe stepped down as prime minister, Kishida put out his candidacy for the first time for LDP's presidency. He didn't even get close. This was his second great failure.
But reading his biography, Kishida Vision, I must say that besides the two aforementioned hiccups, Kishida's life has been smooth sailing over the past 64 years
When one has had a happy and easy life, one tends to think that human nature is fundamentally good. Yet, the world doesn't work like that. And Japanese tend to believe that "human nature is vice," and have always felt a bit uneasy with the dovish Kishida diplomacy when he was foreign minister.
Leftist traditions from Hiroshima
Hiroshima has always been a city with a leftist political tradition. Kishida's character, coupled with the fact that he belongs to the moderate Kochikai faction within the LDP, inevitably means that he won't be a right-wing prime minister.
How long will a Fumio Kishida government last?
Kishida would never have the courage to be engaged in any military action alongside Japan's ally, the United States, nor will he set off to rewrite the country's constitution.
So after barely a year of Yoshihide Suga in office, how long will a Fumio Kishida government last? If Japan can maintain its relatively stable health situation for some time, it could be a while. But if COVID comes roaring back, and the winter brings a sixth wave of the pandemic as virtually all Japanese experts in infectious diseases have predicted, then Kishida may just end up like Suga. No sponge can clean up that mess.
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