G7 Summit 2023: Zelensky's surprise visit, China slams remarks, Yoon & Kishida forge closer ties


Yen Zhi Yi | May 21, 2023, 06:55 PM

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The leaders of the world’s seven richest democracies recently convened in Hiroshima, Japan, to attend the 49th G7 Summit held from May 19 to 21, 2023.

During the meetings, they reiterated their position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as their common distrust of China as an economic partner, Reuters reported.

War in Ukraine

A highlight of the summit was the surprise visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

After arriving on May 20, he received a warm welcome from various leaders, such as Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and France’s President Emmanuel Macron.

The G7 leaders expressed that they would support Ukraine in the long run as they wrapped up the last day of the summit, according to AFP.

Speaking before a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden, Zelensky stated that the frontline town of Bakhmut had apparently fallen.

A spokesperson later clarified that the Ukrainian leader did not mean that the city had been captured by Russia, despite the latter's statement of doing so.

Biden also unveiled a US$375 million (S$504 million) military aid package for Ukraine consisting of armoured vehicles, ammunition, and artillery.

In a later speech, Zelensky called for a "clear global leadership of democracy" to counter Russia's military aggression, Financial Times reported.

“The more we all work together, the less likely anyone else in the world will follow Russia’s insane path,” he said, addressing the G7 and other leaders in attendance, such as Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Threat or peacemaker?

While the war in Ukraine was a dominant topic, largely due to Zelensky’s attendance, another area of focus was China.

In a joint communique, the G7 highlighted the threat posed by China in both economic and military dimensions and expressed their serious concern for the situation in the East and South China Seas.

They expressed their strong opposition “any unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion” as well as concern for China's human rights situation, while criticising its “economic coercion”.

The communique also called for a “peaceful solution” to China-Taiwan tensions and that China “press Russia to stop its military aggression” in Ukraine.

This comes shortly after Ukraine’s foreign minister told China’s special envoy to the country that it will not accept any peace proposals that involve the freezing of the conflict or ceding of territories.

The statement also comes after China's President Xi Jinping spoke to Zelensky in April 2023 over the phone for the first time since the war began.

China: G7 making "high-sounding claims"

In response, China’s foreign ministry issued a statement on May 20 condemning the “hyping up of China-related issues” during the G7 summit.

It wrote:

“The G7 makes high-sounding claims about 'promoting a peaceful, stable and prosperous world’, but what it does is hindering international peace, undermining regional stability and curbing other countries’ development.”

It criticised the grouping for using China-related issues to “smear and attack” the country, as well as “brazenly interfere” in its internal affairs.

The statement reiterated that affairs pertaining to Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong were China’s domestic affairs and urged the G7 to “take a hard look at their own history and human rights record” instead.

It stated that China “firmly upholds the [United Nations]-centered international system” and will “never accept the so-called rules imposed by the few”.

On the sidelines: Yoon & Kishida

The G7 summit was also the stage for the third bilateral meeting between the leaders of Japan and South Korea.

On May 21, South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol, who was attending the summit as a guest, and Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made a symbolic visit to a World War Two memorial in Hiroshima, Japan Times reported.

Hiroshima is one of the two Japanese cities devastated by the atomic bombings in 1945, the other being Nagasaki.

Both leaders visited a monument for Korean victims, in which Yoon noted that it was brave of Kishida to do so, according to Nikkei Asia.

"I hope we can develop our bilateral relations while sharing solidarity and cooperation on how to respond to global issues," Yoon was quoted as saying.

Yoon is the first South Korean president in office to visit the city, as well as the first to meet Korean victims of the atomic bombing, according to Nikkei Asia and Japan Times.

The two leaders later had a trilateral meeting with Biden, during which they agreed to advance security cooperation and deterrence measures. The U.S. President also extended invitations to both of them to visit Washington.

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Top images via G7 Summit website