Message to Hiroshima Summit: Kenichiro Sasae, former Japan ambassador to US, considers summit good opportunity to enhance G7 solidarity

by Yohei Yamamoto, Staff Writer

Kenichiro Sasae, 71, former Japan ambassador to the United States who is from Kurashiki City in Okayama Prefecture, recalls that the 2016 visit to Hiroshima by former U.S. President Barack Obama has been a huge positive for U.S.-Japan relations. With the summit meeting of the G7 (Group of Seven industrialized nations) to be held in Hiroshima this May, the A-bombed city is once again capturing the world’s attention. Mr. Sasae shared with us his expectations for the summit meeting. “The summit will be an opportunity for G7 nations to strengthen their unity and commitment to the maintenance of world order based on their understanding of the tragedy caused by the atomic bombing of the city,” he said.


As can be seen in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the world is clearly divided. The potential for nuclear weapons use is being discussed. That issue represents a great challenge ahead of the summit. How can world order be maintained? How can a free and open world based on the rule of law be attained? I hope Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of the host country Japan can assert a powerful message about such issues.

Mr. Kishida intends to add nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation topics to the summit agenda. Nevertheless, in December of last year, Japan’s national government revised three security-related documents into which were incorporated possession of the capacity to respond (the capability to attack enemy bases) and an increase in defense spending.

Military buildup is a trend across the world. Strengthening Japan’s defense capabilities is only natural, given the growing threats posed by such neighboring countries as China and North Korea. Enhancement of that sort is simply a pragmatic measure for avoiding war. It is essential for Japan to cooperate with the United States and EU nations, and if such cooperation were ever to fail, wholly undesirable armed conflict could well result.

It is often said that aiming at reliance on nuclear deterrence and elimination of nuclear weapons at the same time is a contradiction. From a long-term perspective, I don’t happen to think so. A realistic path forward is one that includes discussions for reducing the number of nuclear weapons and their role in security.

Some people in the A-bombed city of Hiroshima have demanded that G7 leaders visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and meet with A-bomb survivors in person.

It is important for the leaders to have chances to learn about the tragedy of the atomic bombing firsthand. I hope such opportunities can come about by incorporating them into the summit schedule as part of the summit’s lineup of events. Some nations possess nuclear arsenals while others rely on a nuclear umbrella, but they all fully understand the significance of Hiroshima.

Hiroshima is the most appropriate location for the chance to urge leaders to work ever harder and ensure that no tragedy involving nuclear weapons will ever occur again. I believe such an opportunity should also be offered to those who will visit Hiroshima from key developing nations and international organizations in conjunction with the summit.

In May 2016, Barack Obama visited Hiroshima as the first sitting U.S. president to do so. As Japan’s ambassador to the United States at the time, Mr. Sasae was involved in the work of coordinating with his U.S. counterparts in preparation for Mr. Obama’s visit.

Mr. Obama’s visit to Hiroshima was carefully arranged to avoid being a one-way street, as it were, merely in response to demands by Japan that he make the trip. We hoped for a situation in which Mr. Obama expressed his strong wishes to visit the city. That prior coordination and planning was what I struggled with most at the time. It was crucial to have the U.S. side be proactive with respect to the visit and to make their learning about the horror of the atomic bombing firsthand become a driving force for peace.

As a result, Mr. Obama’s words stressing the horror of nuclear weapons were successfully communicated from Hiroshima to the world. In the same year, then-Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe paid a visit to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Both events were positioned as significant milestones in the reconciliation between Japan and the United States following World War II. I truly hope that the Hiroshima Summit will also take its place as being of historical importance for world peace.

Kenichiro Sasae
Born in Kurashiki City in Okayama Prefecture in 1951, Kenichiro Sasae graduated from the high school affiliated with Hiroshima University, and after that the University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Law. Mr. Sasae joined Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1974. He served as director-general of the Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau and engaged in negotiations during six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear weapons crisis as Japan’s chief representative. Having assumed many posts, such as vice minister for Foreign Affairs and Japan’s ambassador to the United States, he has served as president of the Japan Institute of International Affairs since 2018.

(Originally published on January 29, 2023)