Japan's Abe to take G7 leaders to shrine as economy tops summit agenda

By Reuters/Matt Spetalnick   May 25, 2016 | 06:57 pm PT
Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe was set to escort Group of Seven (G7) leaders to the Shinto religion's holiest site on Thursday ahead of a summit that will cover topics from risks to the global economy to China's maritime assertiveness.

Abe was to take U.S. President Barack Obama and other G7 partners to the expansive grounds of Ise Grand Shrine in central Japan, dedicated to sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami, mythical ancestress of the emperor.

Abe has said he hopes the shrine visit will provide an insight to the heart of Japanese culture. Critics say he's catering to a conservative base that wants to put religion back in politics and revive traditional values.

On Wednesday night, Abe met Obama for talks dominated by the arrest of a U.S. military base worker in connection with the killing of a young woman on Japan's southern Okinawa island, reluctant host to the bulk of the U.S. military in Japan.

The incident has marred Obama's hopes of keeping his Japan trip strictly focused on his visit on Friday to Hiroshima, site of the world's first atomic bombing, to highlight reconciliation between the two former World War Two foes and his nuclear anti-proliferation agenda.

"...our visit to Hiroshima will honor all those who were lost in World War Two and reaffirm our shared vision of a world without nuclear weapons, as well as highlight the extraordinary alliance that we have been able to forge over these many decades," Obama, the first sitting U.S. president to visit the city, told a news conference with Abe late on Wednesday.

Abe, in his remarks, seemed to stress Japan's status as victim, the first and only country to be targeted with nuclear weapons, and made no mention of Tokyo's own wartime atrocities.

Global health check

Concerns about the health of the global economy will top the agenda at the G7 summit, although full agreement on macro-economic policy looks hard to come by.

The G7 leaders are expected to promote monetary, fiscal and structural policies to spur growth in their communique when the summit ends on Friday, government sources told Reuters.

With Britain and Germany resisting calls for fiscal stimulus, Abe will urge the G7 leaders to adopt a flexible fiscal policy, taking into account each country's own situation.

The G7 leaders are also expected to reaffirm their previous commitment to stability in the foreign exchange market

Summit topics also include terrorism, refugees, trade, cyber security and maritime security, including China's assertiveness in the East and South China Seas, where Beijing has territorial disputes with Japan and several Southeast Asian nations.

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday encouraged Beijing and others to abide by a looming ruling by an international tribunal on a South China Sea territorial row between China and the Philippines.

The G7 groups Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States. 

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