China, climate and Covid-19 – these were the three big themes of the G-7 summit in the English county of Cornwall this weekend. Not everyone agreed on everything; US President Joe Biden took the opportunity to remind everyone that “America is back”. Suffice to say that China was neither amused nor impressed.
At the G-7 summit in Biarritz in 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron, then host, “protected Trump” from his summit by dispensing with the joint communiqué, thus preventing explosions between the leaders, many of whom were jostling their noses. . This time, however, Boris Johnson called the summit “historic”. Royal Windsors and the “old regime on a makeover” hit it off around barbecues and beach walks at Carbis Bay.
Basically, the G-7 summit was all about China, although some of its members tried to temper America’s increasingly harsh line. Senior British briefing officials suggested the summit was ‘what we are on rather than who we are against’. These are more democracies than autocratic / authoritarian systems, Biden suggested. “We are competing, not with China per se, but with autocrats and autocratic governments around the world over whether democracies can compete with them in a rapidly changing 21st century. “
After the 2008 global financial crisis, George W Bush established the G-20 as a more representative global forum to lead the global economy. The rebirth of the G-7 is not that these countries claim to be the leading dogs of the global economy, but, with America in the lead, they are trying to cobble together a value system that pools resources, technologies and a community of global perspectives to roll back a growing China, whose once-desired growth is now mostly feared.
Mario Draghi, Italian Prime Minister, told the post-summit press conference that the G-7 must focus on the challenge of China. “It is an autocracy that does not adhere to multilateral rules and does not share the same worldview as democracies… We must cooperate but we must also be frank about the things we do not share and do not accept. The US president has said silence is complicity.
Italy, in recent times, has become deeply entangled with China – in early 2020, when the Covid epidemic erupted in Wuhan, it quickly moved to northern Italy, devastating the country in a matter of months and revealing the deep inroads China had made in Italy’s fashion industry. Italy was also one of the first EU countries to join China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) as well as a space deal. Draghi has now promised to review this deal.
Nevertheless, the G-7 has yet to fully support this anti-Chinese principle, as evidenced by some rumblings over the language of the final communiqué. For example, human rights issues in Hong Kong and Xinjiang were mentioned, but not forced labor (many Western companies outsource textile production to entities in Xinjiang). “We will promote our values, including calling on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially with regard to Xinjiang and those rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong enshrined in the Sino-British joint statement and the Basic Law. . ”The statement said.
He also raised concerns “regarding the situation in the East and South China Seas” where the G-7 opposes “any unilateral attempt to change the status quo and increase tensions.” “We reiterate the importance of maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific, inclusive and based on the rule of law. We stress the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues.
The G-7 document kept the pressure on China to reveal the origins of the coronavirus.
China was quick to laugh at the statement. “The days when global decisions were dictated by a small group of countries are long gone,” a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in the UK said in a statement posted on its website. “We always believe that countries, big or small, strong or weak, poor or rich, are equal and that world affairs should be dealt with through consultations by all countries.”
The G-7 has even embarked on a campaign of “green” infrastructure to compete with the Chinese BRI. Recognizing the need to meet an infrastructure demand from the developing world, the G-7 launched the Rebuilding a Better World (B3W) project. This is intended to help build infrastructure in different parts of the world as an alternative to BRI.
India is likely to join, both as a beneficiary and an exporter of infrastructure. The developing world is increasingly interested in hassle-free loans for more traditional infrastructure / development needs, many of which don’t make a difference to G-7 lenders. They still prefer to go to China.
If global democracies are to offer a better alternative, they will need to develop a more attractive set of lending principles and rules than the no-questions-asked alternative. Sri Lanka is an instructive example – the average citizen doesn’t care about the loss of sovereignty over Hambantota or the port city of Colombo, which governments have ceded to China. Similar examples can be found in Cambodia, Laos, and many African countries. But how do democracies craft a more efficient and lean model of lending for infrastructure?
India was once again an ‘advocacy partner’, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking on health, technology and climate. India has participated in G-7 summits in this way since 2003. India has also signed the Open Societies Agreement with other G-7 countries and neighboring countries to embrace human rights values. man, social inclusion, protection of civic space and media freedoms, oppose “politically motivated Internet shutdowns” (even though the country has been criticized for having imposed the number maximum Internet shutdowns in the world) as well as arbitrary detentions and disinformation, promotes economic resilience and free trade. Last month, India and Europe re-launched a human rights dialogue. These two agreements make it easier for India and the developed world to hold discussions on difficult issues that have traditionally held back both sides.
The G-7, however, have avoided making big moves on Covid vaccines – between some of the richest countries in the world, they have added up individual contributions and funding to come up with a billion doses of vaccine for countries the poorest, but were ultimately vague on lead times and production. The Quad summit in March was more specific: 1 billion doses of J&J to the countries of the Indo-Pacific by 2022.
The G-7 has now presented itself as a democratic alternative to Chinese authoritarianism. But the world’s democracies must redouble their efforts to make themselves attractive in a world where the Chinese development model is making headway.
The positioning of the group is perfect. As the US NSA, Jake Sullivan said, “We made historic commitments to end the pandemic, to force giant multinationals to pay their fair share and invest in the middle class, and we announced Build Back Better World. – a bold infrastructure initiative for the developing world that will be values-driven and transparent. Now they just have to deliver.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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