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CWA # 141, 6 July 2019

G-20 Summit
For Japan, it was commerce and climate change

  Abigail Miriam Fernandez

There has been a lot that Japan has laid on the table, apart from just being the host they have determined for themselves an agenda and plan that they are keen on working towards. Japan, through its many proposals and the proactive leadership of Abe looks to be moving towards a new chapter in Japan's global image

Japan being the host country for the G20 Summit, laid down the broader agenda for the meeting. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe commented on issues relating to the global economy, need for free trade and non-discriminatory trade policies, climate change, and a sustainable future.

G-20: What did Japan want?

Consider the following proposals from Japan. Abe called for a "Osaka Track" which aims at the creation of new international rules and regulations that would enable the free movement of data across borders, intellectual property rights and cybersecurity. This plan spearheaded by Abe looks at "Data Free Flow with Trust", and his idea is to ensure an added momentum to e-commerce negotiation at the World Bank. This plan was accepted by 24 countries who formally signed this agreement and acknowledged the content of the Osaka Track concept. 

Japan has promoted "high-quality infrastructure" for a couple of years now. At the G20, when the global leaders adopted this new principle "quality infrastructure" it was a win for Japan's flagship initiative that they started about four years ago. This is a complete opposite proposal to the Chinese driven plan of "quantity- driven strategy" which has persuaded developing countries with cheaper infrastructure projects under the Belt and Road Initiative. Japanese Finance Minister took pride in knowing that the G20 leaders had explicitly codified this agenda. The prime minister also urged Beijing to work along with Tokyo and Washington that have been pushing for a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

Japan had stated a month before that summit that the issue of marine plastic waste would be one of the most important themes that would be discussed.  Japan hoped that world leaders would endorse a deal on marine plastic waste and find common ground on climate change, but its environmental record is under increasing scrutiny. Activists have gone on to say that Japan has fallen behind on reducing plastic consumption and is caving to US pressure to dilute language on climate change to achieve a joint statement on the issue. Although they had secured an agreement from environment ministers on a marine plastic waste deal which commits G20 members to reduce plastic waste, however, it only includes few details on how that will be attained, suggesting only voluntary steps and yearly progress reports.

A Report Card: With Russia, US, South Korea and India

With Russia, Abe and President Vladimir Putin did not reach any significant developments on the long-standing territorial dispute, which is a setback for Abe who has put in significant effort to working towards this issue. The two have agreed to continue to negotiate over the dispute of the Russian held island off Hokkaido called Northern Territories in Japan and Southern Kurils in Russia.

Japan has tried to position itself in-between the US and China, aiming to use its close relationship with Washington and its improving relationship with Beijing to bring about some solutions on the trade and other issues. Japan had hoped to use the G20 forum as a platform for international cooperation, advance its interests and its global position. 

Another critical development was the second Japan-America- India (JAI) meeting, where the three countries looked at issues of the Indo-Pacific region, connectivity and infrastructure development. The discussed focused on how the region can work towards a more open and stable and rule-based Indo-Pacific region. 

Concerning tensions between Japan and South Korea, there were no steps taken at the summit to ease this. An official from South Korea had made a statement regarding their willingness to meet their Japanese counterparts. However, the intention was not reciprocated. Abe has gone on to state that he would be unable to meet his South Korean counterpart as he would be busy during the weekend. The failure of the two sides to even schedule a for a discussion on the sidelines of the summit highlights the depth to which the ties have been tainted.

There has been a lot that Japan has laid on the table, apart from just being the host they have determined for themselves an agenda and plan that they are keen on working towards. Japan, through its many proposals and the proactive leadership of Abe looks to be moving towards a new chapter in Japan's global image. 

Abigail Miriam Fernandez is a postgraduate student at the Department of International Studies at Stella Marris College. She can be reached at fernandezabigail123@gmail.com

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