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Ise-Shima Summit a litmus test for Abe's diplomacy

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Abe's office on May 24, 2016. (Mainichi)

The May 26-27 Group of Seven (G-7) Summit will serve as a litmus test for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as the head of the host country, as the major economies of the world face numerous issues that need to be addressed during the meeting in Mie Prefecture's Ise-Shima region.

    Abe emphasized the strong leadership and close partnership of G-7 member countries during a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Abe's office on May 24.

    "G-7 nations have shared values and should lead policies to tackle challenges regarding the global economy and international order that are becoming increasingly uncertain," Abe said during talks with Trudeau. "I hope to show the strong ties (among G-7 members) at the summit."

    In recent years, the G-20, which includes China and other emerging economies, has shown a strong presence in addressing global financial issues. However, amid growing global instability caused by terrorism and ongoing conflicts, there are high hopes for the leadership of the G-7 members.

    "The G-7 is the place where like-minded people can gather," a senior Foreign Ministry official said. "State leaders can have honest discussions (at summits) that will stay off the record."

    The Ise-Shima Summit will mark Abe's fifth time attending the top-level meeting, putting him in second place with former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone in the number of summits attended by a single Japanese prime minister, while Junichiro Koizumi participated in six summits while in office.

    Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroshige Seko says Abe got the hang of the G-7 summits after his third time while at the 2014 Brussels Summit. "He has come to know other leaders and calls them by their first names."

    While the world economy is the main topic during the upcoming summit, G-7 leaders will address a range of global issues including anti-terrorism policies and the refugee crisis. As the head of the host country, Abe's diplomacy will be measured by how much the member nations can form a consensus on such issues.

    In the past, Japanese prime ministers have been keen on using summits to boost the approval of their administrations. At the 1983 summit held in Williamsburg, Virginia, then Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone tried to show his presence by standing next to his U.S. counterpart President Ronald Reagan when pictures were being taken, although he had been initially told to stand at a different spot.

    At the 1996 summit in Lyon, France, then prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto proposed a "global welfare initiative" in which members share information and experiences in welfare policies taken by each country. With his earlier decision to raise the sales tax to 5 percent and by eyeing the dissolution of the House of Representatives and the ensuing national election, Hashimoto's aim was to promote himself as a welfare leader in his home country and abroad. However, his idea was not widely accepted.

    One of the difficult issues that will be addressed during the upcoming summit is relationships with non-member countries China and Russia, as Japan, the U.S. and Europe take different approaches to those superpowers. Nevertheless, Abe "prides himself in being excellent at diplomacy more than anyone else," according to one of his close aides, and is going to act as a "world leader" during the summit.

    Prime Minister Abe is expected to make the final judgment on whether he would go ahead with the consumption tax hike scheduled for April 2017 based on the summit declaration and other factors. He will also decide whether to dissolve the lower house and hold a double election of both houses in July.

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