TOKYO: When John Kerry joins his fellow G7 foreign ministers for talks this weekend in Hiroshima, the city’s symbolism as the first ever target of an atomic attack will take center stage.
Kerry will become the first–ever 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 Barack Obama to become the first serving US President to journey to the now-thriving southwestern metropolis next month when he visits Japan for the G7 Summit.
The two-day Hiroshima meeting begins Sunday and is also to be 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 G7’s rotating annual summit, scheduled this year from May 26-27 in the Ise-Shima region between Tokyo and Osaka.
The US Secretary of State, 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 saber-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 as the only country to suffer atomic attacks.
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 August 6, 1945, killed 140,000 people in Hiroshima, including survivors of the explosion but 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,” Sunao Tsuboi, a Hiroshima survivor who turns 91 in May, told Agence France-Presse, adding the weapons threaten “human survival.”
Japan gave up the fight six days after Nagasaki, foreswearing militarism and reviving itself as an economic dynamo protected, ironically, by the nuclear-armed United States.
Washington hopes to use 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 Obama’s anti-nuclear stance, expressed in a famous speech in Prague in 2009.
But Hiroshima’s symbolism comes with contradictions given that Japan benefits from the US nuclear arsenal, said 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.”
Indeed, when asked about its place under Washington’s nuclear umbrella, Kishida said Japan knows the world’s security realities, citing North Korea, for example, as a key threat.
Recent comments by Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump suggesting that he could accept a nuclear-armed Japan have alarmed the country’s political establishment.
But at street level, the hope is that the Hiroshima meeting will convince Obama — who US officials have said is considering a visit — to do so.
“I hope Mr Obama will come to Hiroshima to mark the finale of his term,” said Tsuboi, who for decades led a national group of bomb victims.
“There might be some people who still hold grudges, but many of the living atomic bomb survivors have gone beyond that.”