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Heads of state and governments from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and host Japan are meeting in Ise-Shima, 300 kilometres (200 miles) southwest of Tokyo.
Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe greeted US President Barack Obama – who will make a historic trip Friday to the site of the world’s first atomic bombing in Hiroshima – and other G7 partners at Ise Grand Shrine in central Japan, dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami, the mythical ancestress of the emperor.
Abe’s decision to take his counterparts to the site has raised eyebrows among some critics, who say he’s catering to a conservative base that wants to put religion back into politics.
The global economy is expected to take centre stage when the formal talks get under way later on Thursday, although divisions are likely to remain over whether the world should spend or save its way out of the malaise, with economic powerhouses Japan and Germany at odds on the issue.
The G7 will also discuss Islamist terrorism, with French President François Hollande keen to address the threat after France was attacked twice by jihadist terrorists in 2015.
Summit topics are also set to include cyber security and maritime security, including China’s increasing assertiveness in the East and South China seas, where Beijing has territorial disputes with Japan and several Southeast Asian nations.
China, the world’s second-largest economy, will not be present, but the row over the South China Sea will nonetheless loom large.
Japan and the US are keen to corral support for a growing pushback against Beijing’s claim to sovereignty over almost the whole of the South China Sea, which has raised the ire of its smaller neighbours.
China’s state-run Xinhua news agency told the G7 on Thursday to keep out of its affairs.
“The G7, in order not to become obsolete and even negatively affect global peace and stability, should mind its own business rather than pointing fingers at others and fuelling conflicts,” it said.
Speaking on the sidelines of the meeting, European Council President Donald Tusk said Thursday that the world needs to act together on the refugee crisis and not leave the continent to battle the problem alone.
“We are aware that it is because of geography that the most responsibility is, and will continue to be, placed on Europe,” Tusk told reporters.
“However, we would also like the global community to show solidarity and recognise that this is a global crisis.”
Last year, some 1.3 million refugees, mostly from conflict-ridden Syria and Iraq, asked for asylum in the European Union – more than a third of them in Germany.
A series of bilateral meetings are also scheduled for Thursday, with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel meeting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is also holding talks with France’s Hollande.
Britain’s referendum next month on whether or not to stay in the European Union is sure to figure prominently, as some economists warn a Brexit could undermine the global economy.
“British Prime Minister David Cameron will be looking to use this opportunity to get a united voice in support of his campaign to keep Britain in the EU,” said FRANCE 24’s Japan correspondent, Justin McCurry.
Security was tight across Japan, with thousands of extra police drafted to patrol train stations and ferry terminals. Tokyo said it was taking no chances in the wake of terror attacks that struck Paris and Brussels in recent months.
Dustbins have been removed or sealed and coin-operated lockers blocked at train and subway stations in the capital and areas around the venue site. Authorities said they will also be keeping a close eye on so-called “soft targets” such as theatres and stadiums.