Hiroshima's atomic past upstaging G-7 summit

The Peace Memorial Park which houses the ruins of the iconic domed building gutted by the atomic blast. Ministers attending the talks this weekend are scheduled to visit this site.
The Peace Memorial Park which houses the ruins of the iconic domed building gutted by the atomic blast. Ministers attending the talks this weekend are scheduled to visit this site.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Japanese public hope to use location of meeting to promote anti-nuclear message

TOKYO • When Mr John Kerry joins his fellow G-7 foreign ministers for talks this weekend in Hiroshima, the city's symbolism as the first target of an atomic attack will take centre stage.

Mr Kerry will become the first US secretary of state to visit Hiroshima, obliterated by an American atomic bomb in 1945, with his trip seen as possibly paving the way for Mr Barack Obama to become the first serving US president to journey to the now-thriving south-western metropolis next month, when he visits Japan for the G-7 Summit.

The two-day Hiroshima meeting begins on Sunday and is also being attended by diplomats from nuclear-armed Britain and France, as well as Canada, Germany, Italy and Japan. The gathering is part of the run-up to the G-7's rotating annual summit, scheduled this year from May 26-27 in the Ise-Shima region between Tokyo and Osaka.

Mr Kerry, Britain's Philip Hammond, France's Jean-Marc Ayrault and other ministers are expected to discuss global hotspot issues, including the Middle East, the migration crisis, the conflict in Ukraine and terrorism. Host Japan also hopes to highlight other issues, such as rising territorial tensions in the South China Sea and North Korea's nuclear sabre-rattling.

But what has captured the imagination of the Japanese public is the location and what they hope will be greater understanding of their staunch anti-nuclear stance.

The ministers are scheduled to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, which houses the ruins of the iconic domed building gutted by the blast, and an accompanying museum.

Japanese foreign minister Fumio Kishida, who represents Hiroshima in Parliament, also hopes to issue a "Hiroshima Declaration" at the meeting to promote nuclear disarmament.

The first bomb on Aug 6, 1945, killed 140,000 people in Hiroshima, including survivors of the explosion who died soon after from severe radiation exposure. Three days later, another blast killed some 74,000 people in Nagasaki.

"I want them to see and hear what an atomic bomb has done," said Mr Sunao Tsuboi, a Hiroshima survivor who turns 91 in May.

Japan gave up the fight six days after Nagasaki, foreswearing militarism and reviving itself as an economic dynamo protected, ironically, by the nuclear-armed US.

Washington hopes to use Mr Kerry's visit - he will be the highest ranking US official in Hiroshima since then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in 2008 - to stress the tragedy of the war and also highlight Mr Obama's anti-nuclear stance.

But Hiroshima's symbolism comes with contradictions given that Japan benefits from the US nuclear arsenal, said Mr Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at Temple University. "Japan believes US nuclear deterrence is extremely important to Japan's own security," he said, forcing Tokyo's anti-nuclear message to be "ambiguous".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 09, 2016, with the headline 'Hiroshima's atomic past upstaging G-7 summit'. Print Edition | Subscribe