Following conclusion of Hiroshima Summit, Part 1: Meeting held in A-bombed city

by Michiko Tanaka, Senior Staff Writer

The summit meeting of the G7 (Group of Seven industrialized nations), for which Hiroshima City served as host, has come to a close. The summit was chaired by Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, whose constituency is in Hiroshima, and took place over the three days of May 19–21, gathering leaders from countries around the world, including the nuclear weapons states of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and India. A-bomb survivors looked on with the hope that the summit would result in progress toward the abolition of nuclear weapons. Despite the inconveniences caused by the unprecedented high-security situation in the city, the public anticipated that the summit would provide the opportunity to promote Hiroshima’s attractions. In a surprising fashion, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made his own appearance at the G7 meeting. Herein, we take a look at the achievements of the first-ever G7 summit held in the A-bombed city of Hiroshima and the challenges that lie ahead.

Hope in leaders’ words

Starting point for world without nuclear weapons

On the morning of May 22, overseas visitors waited in line in front of the facility to enter the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, located in the city’s Naka Ward. The museum had opened its doors for the first time in four days, since May 18, when restrictions on access to Peace Memorial Park were first put in place. After his visit, Brian Graets, 61, a visitor from Australia, expressed how moved he was by what he saw. “I felt the cruelty of the nuclear devastation from the many artifacts on display. It’s important for the world’s political leaders to visit here.”

Leaders of the G7 nations and the European Union (EU) set foot in the museum on May 19, the first day of the summit. After everyone else had entered, United States President Joe Biden arrived, and the time the leaders spent inside the museum came to around 40 minutes. That was about 30 minutes longer than Barack Obama’s visit as the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima seven years ago, in 2016. This time, the leaders had an opportunity to listen to Keiko Ogura, 85, an A-bomb survivor who lives in Naka Ward, speak about her experience in the atomic bombing.

Museum windows covered by white fabric

Perhaps out of consideration for the United States, the country that dropped the atomic bombs on Japan in 1945, Japan’s national government prohibited press coverage. White fabric was used to cover the glass walls on the first floor of the museum’s East Building, making it impossible to see inside. After the visit, the leaders stood solemnly before the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims, but it was difficult to discern what they were thinking at the time.

One of the few clues was provided by a guest book released to the public on May 20. Mr. Biden, leader of one of the world’s nuclear superpowers, vowed to achieve a world without nuclear weapons. “Together let us continue to make progress toward the day when we can finally and forever rid the world of nuclear weapons. Keep the faith!” wrote the U.S. president.

United Kingdom Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wrote, “What we can say, with all our hearts, and all our souls, is no more.” French President Emmanuel Macron indicated that “our sole mission is to act for peace.” Those words of the leaders of the United Kingdom and France, also nuclear weapons states, were imbued with resolve, demonstrating the significance of the event being held in the A-bombed city.

No mention of TPNW

On the contrary, the special document released by the leaders that night—the Hiroshima Vision on nuclear disarmament—revealed the cold and ruthless nature of international politics. Despite declaring that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons by Russia in its continuing invasion of Ukraine would not be tolerated, the G7 justified its own nuclear weapons by stating they “should serve defensive purposes, deter aggression and prevent war and coercion.” The document failed to mention the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

Keiko Nakamura, an associate professor at the Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition (RECNA) at Nagasaki University, offered her opinion. “The contradiction of talking about nuclear disarmament within the framework of the G7, which is made up of nuclear weapons states and nations reliant on those nuclear weapons, was on full display.”

Hiroshima and Nagasaki have continually called for the understanding that all nuclear weapons are an absolute evil and must be eliminated from the earth. Hiromu Morishita, 92, a resident of Hiroshima’s Saeki Ward who has spoken in Japan and abroad about his experiences in the atomic bombing, lamented, “We cannot wait. So, we had high expectations for the G7 summit held in Hiroshima, but no progress was made.”

Certainly, one achievement during the three-day summit, including the expanded meetings, was that the leaders of 16 nations, including four nuclear weapons states, came into contact with the reality of the atomic bombing. The summit will truly go down in history if the ‘voices’ of Hiroshima are engraved in the leaders’ hearts and the summit can serve as a starting point for action toward a world without nuclear weapons or war.

(Originally published on May 23, 2023)