China drills, war in Ukraine high on agenda of G7 foreign ministers meeting

Geopolitics  Pavel Byrkin  AP
© Pavel Byrkin / AP

G7 foreign ministers are meeting in Japan for talks set to be dominated by China's growing pressure on Taiwan, and Russia's war in Ukraine. 

The meeting of foreign ministers from United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan  comes days after China concluded major military drills around self-ruled Taiwan, and with Beijing barring ships from an area north of the island on Sunday.

On Thursday, North Korea launched what it said was a new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile – the latest in a stepped-up barrage of tests that have rattled nerves.

Host Japan is keen to ensure regional challenges top the agenda, and will emphasise its belief that Russia's invasion of Ukraine heightens the need for vigilance in Asia.

Ukraine today, Asia tomorrow

Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, whose government has revamped defence policy and spending in the face of growing Chinese power, has repeatedly warned that "Ukraine today could be East Asia tomorrow".

"Japan's basic position... on Ukraine is that the security of Europe and that of the Indo-Pacific cannot be discussed separately," a Japanese government official said ahead of the talks.

"They are intertwined with each other."
The G7 has regularly warned China against attempts to seize Taiwan, and individual members have sounded the alarm in recent days.

But there will be renewed focus on the grouping's language after recent comments by French President Emmanuel Macron.

Macron, who visited China last week, raised hackles on both sides of the Atlantic last weekend in an interview in which he said Europe should not be a "follower" of either Washington or Beijing or get caught up in any escalation over Taiwan.

His insistence that Europe should avoid "crises that aren't ours" has raised eyebrows and ire among Paris's allies, while delighting Chinese officials.

Not a vassal

The French president stood by his controversial comments on Wednesday on a visit to Amsterdam, saying that being a US ally did not mean being a "vassal".

Paris has worked to temper the reaction, insisting France's views have not changed, and most observers expect the group to reiterate previous positions warning China against "changing the status quo by force".

Macron's visit to China was also dominated by discussions on the war in Ukraine, with Beijing being a close partner of Moscow.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said Saturday he spoke at length with Macron by phone to  discuss the next steps in the organisation of a peace summit.

Zelensky in December proposed a global summit to chart a path to peace in Ukraine, however no details emerged from the call on what is planned.

The Ukrainian leader said he had expressed gratitude to his French counterpart for "condemning the terrible and inhumane execution of a Ukrainian soldier by Russian war criminals".

That comment referred to the emergence of a video apparently showing the beheading of a Ukrainian prisoner, which has prompted international outrage.

Russian authorities said Thursday they were examining the images to determine their authenticity.

On Saturday Macron reaffirmed that "France stands by the Ukrainian and international courts to ensure that no crime committed in the context of Russian aggression goes unpunished," according to the Elysee.

Diversify supply chains

Both Russia's invasion and growing concerns about China have put renewed focus on economic security and the need to diversify supply chains for everything from energy to semiconductors.

The G7 group is likely to again demand Russia's immediate withdrawal and pledge continued support for Ukraine.

It already imposed significant sanctions on Russia, so substantive new measures are not expected, though backing for a war crimes tribunal and fresh expressions of concern about Russian nuclear sabre-rattling are likely.

The two-day meeting will also tackle international crises, from the Taliban's continuing grip on Afghanistan to the military junta's latest attacks in Myanmar.

Nuclear proliferation will also be up for discussion ahead of the leaders' summit in Hiroshima this May.

(with newswires)