Zoom Image

Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz and other G7 summit guests on a boat trip to the Itsukushima Shrine near the Japanese city of Hiroshima.

Photo: G7 Hiroshima Summit Host / HANDOUT / EPA

Every "leader" gets one, but not everyone wears it: the golden pin that shows the outline of the Sea of Japan. The pin means access to the inner sphere of influence of the G7 summit in Japan, it is almost all the time on the lapel of the German Chancellor, but much less often on that of the Frenchman Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak or US President Joe Biden.

They seem to choose whether or not this Japanese pin fits into their picture, while the chancellor plays by the rules. At first glance, Scholz seemed to be only a marginal figure at this summit, but that is deceptive. True, the US government dominated the tone, with its call for tougher sanctions against Russia, and of course with the announcement that it would train Ukrainian pilots on F16 fighter jets. And the images were determined by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who floated in a French fighter jet and doesn't need badges in his olive-green sweater of a president in the war anyway to be let in everywhere.

But Germany had a strong influence on this summit, from the content of the resolutions to the guest list. It is also thanks to the preparatory work of Scholz and his advisors that the summit communiqué and six additional declarations did not read like an anti-China package, as was feared by many. And that awakening "global players" such as India or Brazil were invited to the negotiating table. Scholz and the Japanese host Fumio Kishida are united by the goal of seriously and intensively involving the states of the "Global South" in such summit meetings – otherwise they could end up as allies of China or Russia.

However, Scholz really cannot be credited with any influence on the choice of the summit location Hiroshima, it is the home of Prime Minister Kishida. For a summit location, the choice of this big city was rather unusual, than previous venues, the respective states preferred mountain villages (Elmau) or isolated luxury hotels on the beach or in the countryside (Heiligendamm, Biarritz, La Malbaie in Québec).

Of course, the G7 conference center in Hiroshima was so isolated for security reasons that even German delegation members complained that they had spent whole days reading books in their hotel rooms and were only allowed to smoke in the fresh air.

Journalists travelling with them, on the other hand, spent most of the summit days being interviewed by Japanese media in the press centre about their view of Hiroshima, learning about local products such as oysters and insecticides or okonomiyaki pancakes, and visiting the city's most important tourist attraction, the "Atomic Bomb Dome", Hiroshima's memorial to the devastation of the atomic bomb of August 6, 1945. was only possible from a distance of 100 meters behind a man-sized barrier because: security reasons.

Britta Ernst fared better. The wife of the Federal Chancellor and until recently SPD Minister of Education in Brandenburg, accompanied Scholz on a trip abroad for the first time and a visit to the Peace Park including the Atomic Bomb Dome was at the top of her agenda. Here, for once, it should be quoted verbatim that the Federal Chancellor found it "very nice" that his wife was able to travel with him. For Ernst and other accompanying spouses such as Heiko von der Leyen, husband of EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, visits to a tea house, a lotus flower lantern festival and a street food market were offered.

Training yes, but delivery of fighter jets?

In terms of content, the summit had two major focal points: Ukraine and China. The leaders of the seven economically strongest Western democracies agreed on new sanctions against Russian raw materials, an important source of income for the Kremlin regime. The aim is to "starve" Russia's war machine, according to the final declaration, by cutting it off from G7 technologies and services.

In fact, the G7 countries want to focus primarily on closing loopholes in the existing sanctions regimes. According to the summit declaration, it is necessary to "limit Russia's energy revenues and future production capacities" and "reduce its revenues from metals". Neither the US was able to enforce its call for an almost complete export ban on Russia, nor was British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak able to push through his demand for a ban on the import of diamonds from Russia.

US President Joe Biden's commitment to fighter jet training for Ukrainian pilots is also rather low in German delegation circles: the training is all well and good, they say, but the delivery of jets is a long way off. It became clear that the German government is preparing for the fact that this war could last for several more years, and that the fighter jet decision is only one of many milestones. Especially since Berlin is in the pleasant position of not being able to deliver any F16 jets coveted by Kiev.

It is much more important in German government circles that Zelensky can also meet Brazil's President Lula and India's Prime Minister Modi in Hiroshima. Although both are cautious in their support for Ukraine, the Chancellery believes that the attitude is crumbling. The war guilt will now be assigned more clearly to Vladimir Putin, it is said.

His narrative of having been pushed to war by NATO is becoming less and less effective. Conversely, the Chancellery is relieved to see that Zelensky is more open to peace and mediation efforts by other states instead of blocking them.

And then, of course, China. Not least because of the dependence of the German economy on the world's second-largest economy, Scholz has always rejected "decoupling".

In this respect, and because the Chancellor does not tend to underestimate the impact of his actions, the G7 decision had to appear to him as a breakthrough in his line in international trade policy: The G7 states are now proclaiming "de-risking", i.e. the orientation of their trade policy towards minimal risk and the greatest possible diversification. Our policy is not intended to harm China," they assert, "and we have no intention of hindering China's economic progress and development."

Outstretched hand and pat on fingers

This has already been heard from Washington much more aggressively. Obviously, the G7 voices prevailed, which did not want to give China an excuse to portray the Western world as an aggressor or even to strike out preemptively, keyword Taiwan.

The only thing that remains of Washington's demand for significantly stricter investment controls in the summit communiqué is to prevent "malicious practices" such as "illegal technology transfer or data sharing", especially in the case of technologies that can be used for military purposes – but "without unduly restricting trade and investment".

Of course, the G7 countries do not want to appear naïve or profit-oriented, so they criticize Beijing's human rights abuses and aggressive Taiwan policy. And a side statement states that any attempts at "economic coercion" will certainly have "consequences." Which ones?

"The G7 is attacking China"

Thus, the attitude towards China fluctuates between an outstretched hand and a pat on the fingers – and gave Beijing enough space to immediately express its "strong dissatisfaction": "The G7 discredits and attacks China," the Foreign Ministry explained.

For Olaf Scholz, the end of the summit is not the end of the journey – he continues to South Korea. A visit to another medium-sized player on the world stage, to whom the Federal Chancellor wants to pay his respects. It is the first bilateral visit by a German head of government in 13 years.

If you count a trip to Iceland at the beginning of the week, the Chancellor has now been away from Berlin for almost a week. There are enough other tasks waiting for him there.