Japan’s Prime Minister Kishida aims to create momentum for pre-election concept of international group of eminent persons toward nuclear abolition

by Seiji Shitakubo, Staff Writer

During a policy speech on January 17, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (representing Hiroshima Prefecture’s District No. 1) set forth his plan to establish an international group of eminent persons conference, with the aim of realizing a world without nuclear weapons. Mr. Kishida has mulled over the concept, such as the group’s name and the appropriate members, including political leaders of overseas nations, since before he assumed the post of prime minister. He first described the idea in his book Kakuheiki no nai sekai e—Yukiaru heiwakokka no kokorozashi (in English, Toward a World Without Nuclear Weapons—Aspirations of a Courageous Peace-loving Nation), published in October 2020.

In 2017, Mr. Kishida, then Japan’s minister for foreign affairs, established the Group of Eminent Persons Conference as a forum for experts on nuclear disarmament from both nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states to gather together and discuss issues related to nuclear disarmament. In his book, Mr. Kishida stressed his hope to strengthen the conference by widely seeking commitments from leading world figures and enhancing both the quality and quantity of the body. He also wrote about his desire to invite former U.S. President Barack Obama and former Russia President Mikhail Gorbachev to join the conference and assume the “role of Sherpas” in leading the world to the “mountaintop” of nuclear abolition.

The book was published one month after Mr. Kishida was defeated by former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in the Liberal Democratic Party’s presidential election, held in September 2020. He has declared his desire to “be a compass for people throughout the world” in his role as politician from the A-bombed city of Hiroshima. In a plan called the “Kishida Initiative,” which is described in the fifth chapter of his book, he proposed coordinated efforts by Japan and the United States to reinforce the regime of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), as well as trilateral discussions among Japan, the United States, and China on the theme “nuclear power for peace and development,” aimed at achieving engagement with China.

Mr. Kishida remains cautious about ratification and signing of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), resulting in A-bomb survivors remarking about the difficulty in distinguishing this administration’s stance from that of previous administrations. According to government officials, Mr. Kishida has revealed his strong desire to announce establishment of the international group of eminent persons conference to “enhance international momentum for a world without nuclear weapons.” His motivation comes amid concerns about further stagnation of progress in nuclear disarmament against the backdrop of the NPT Review Conference being postponed once again due to the coronavirus pandemic. The national government is seeking a way to hold the first session of the international group of eminent persons conference in Hiroshima sometime in the first half of this year.

(Originally published on January 18, 2022)