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ISE, Japan – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and fellow leaders of the Group of Seven advanced economies will begin their summit Thursday with a visit to Ise Shrine, the most hallowed site for Japan's indigenous Shinto religion — one of many aspects of the gathering that dovetail with Abe's long-term diplomatic and political agenda.
As host, to the extent that it can, Abe's government has shaped the G-7 program to showcase his own political and economic platform, taking "leadership in guiding the world by showing the best path forward for peace and prosperity," according to an agenda distributed by the Foreign Ministry.
The leaders will start out their program with a visit to Ise (Ee-say) Shrine, the holiest site in the Shinto religion, which during the first half of the 20th century was used by Japan's militarist government as a way to rally the population behind its invasion of wide swaths of Asia before and during World War II. After Japan's defeat, state Shinto was banned, but the conservative prime minister has used it as a way to promote traditional cultural and social values.
Abe made a visit a day earlier to the shrine to pray for a good summit.
Japanese officials said the intent was not to conduct any religious formalities. It can give the foreign leaders a sense of the "air, water, nature and atmosphere" of the shrine, foreign ministry spokesman Yasuhisa Kawamura said Wednesday. "Ise is the place to present the beauty of nature and the richness of our culture and long tradition."
Many of the issues to be discussed by the leaders during their two days of talks are linked to Abe's policy priorities. They include maritime security — code for concerns over China's expanding presence in disputed areas of the South China Sea; initiatives on global health, including funding for fighting terrorism and pandemics; and a focus on women's empowerment, which Abe has promoted as "womenomics."
The annual summit brings together the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States. President Barack Obama arrived in Japan on Wednesday and had an evening meeting with Abe. After the summit ends on Friday, Obama plans to visit the peace park in Hiroshima, the first sitting U.S. president to visit the city on which the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb in 1945 in the closing days of World War II.
Both in the G-7 meetings and in "outreach" sessions with other countries' leaders on the sidelines of the summit, the agenda includes "quality infrastructure investment." Since taking office in late 2012, Abe has circled the globe, visiting dozens of countries to promote sales of Japanese infrastructure technology, especially coal and gas-fired power plants and bullet trains.
"We think Japan has demonstrated to the rest of the world what quality infrastructure is like," Kawamura said, "and we're very happy to share our experiences and expertise."
The summit is expected, however, to expand support, including development assistance loans, for building roads, power plants and other infrastructure around the world. The Japanese side was seeking a target of $200 billion in financing for such projects.
Other initiatives include plans to spend about $6 billion on education, training and job creation for 20,000 people in the Middle East, to help promote development and social stability in the region and counter the chronic unemployment and economic disparities that are contributing to extremism and violence, under "Abe's philosophy of 'The Best Way to Go in the Middle East," according to a summary of the plans provided by Japan.
On gender issues, Japan plans to help improve schooling conditions for 50,000 girls, mainly in Africa and South Asia, and provide training for 5,000 women in fields such as maternal and child health, it said.