Japan urges G-7 to avert another economic crisis

Elaine Kurtenbach and Mari Yamaguchi
Associated Press

Ise, Japan — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is urging fellow leaders of the Group of Seven advanced economies to avert another global crisis by acting to rescue the faltering global recovery.

Abe and his counterparts got down to business Thursday after strolling through the grounds of Ise Shrine, a tranquil, densely forested landmark that is considered the holiest site in Japan’s indigenous Shinto religion, and then joining a group of children in a tree planting ceremony.

After the first few sessions of summit meetings, President Barack Obama backed Abe’s call.

“We’ve all got a lot of work to do and we agreed to continue to focus on making sure that each country, based on its particular needs and capacities, is taking steps to accelerate growth,” Obama said.

He said it was crucial not just to put people back to work but also raise wages and maintain the momentum of the recovery.

During the talks, Abe compared the current global economic situation to conditions just before the 2008 financial crisis.

A G-7 summit held in northern Japan paid little attention to the trouble that was brewing, Abe said.

Reporters were shown charts Abe had on hand to illustrate the severity of the recent slump in commodity prices and the economic slowdown in China.

“We learned a lesson that we failed to respond properly because we did not have a firm recognition of the risks,” Abe told reporters. “This time, we had a thorough discussion and recognized the major risks facing the global economy.”

The G-7 gathering dovetails in many ways with Abe’s long-term diplomatic, political and economic agenda. A dramatic statement about global economic risks and a strong show of support for public spending to help spur growth could help Abe justify extra stimulus and possibly provide political cover for postponing an unpopular but badly needed increase in Japan’s sales tax next April.

The leaders were expected to turn their attention to trade, politics and diplomacy, and to climate change and energy during talks later Thursday.

The annual summit brings together the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States. It is taking place amid extraordinarily tight security around the remote summit venue, with uniformed police standing guard at close intervals on both sides of roads and randomly in forests, rice fields, soccer fields and other locations.

Protesters were kept far away. A group of several dozen gathered in a nearby city where they were far outnumbered by police and journalists.

Many of the issues to be discussed during the two days of talks are linked to other Abe policy priorities. They include maritime security, code for concerns over China’s expanding presence in disputed areas of the South China Sea; initiatives on global health, including funding for fighting terrorism and pandemics; and a focus on women’s empowerment, which Abe has promoted as “womenomics.”

Japanese officials have also highlighted joint efforts on corruption, terrorism, global health and migration — which has become a huge headache especially for European nations — as other top priorities.

“Those who criticize us should rather think how to increase their assistance because what Europe provides is already massive,” said Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, calling for G-7 support and leadership. “And honestly speaking, if they (the G-7) don’t take the lead in managing this crisis, nobody else will. I will appeal to G-7 leaders to take up this challenge.”

Tusk said the EU is seeking more support for refugees and creation of resettlement schemes and other forms of legal migration around the world.

A possible exit from the European Union by Britain, depending on a June 23 vote, is also hanging over the talks.

Obama arrived in Japan on Wednesday and had an evening meeting with Abe. After the summit ends on Friday, he plans to visit the peace park in Hiroshima, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to visit the city on which the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb in 1945 in the closing days of World War II.