Foreign Ministers of G-7 group of leading economies of the world met at London during May 3-5, 2021. The meeting was held face-to-face in offline mode for the first time in last two years amidst COVID-19 driven pandemic. The last time this meeting was held in April 2019 in Biarritz, France. The said meeting took place in the backdrop of number of accusations against Russia like: brinkmanship and saber-rattling with Ukraine; cyberattacks and misinformation; and poisoning of Alexei Navalny.
G-7 was G-8 until Russia was dropped from it in 2014 on grounds of annexation of Crimea. Hence, the group now consist of USA, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and UK. Special invitees to the meeting were representatives from European Union, Australia, India, South Korea, South Africa and the Chairman of ASEAN. The meeting is a prelude to scheduled meeting of G-7 leaders during June 11-13, 2021.
The meeting was of great significance as G-7 wanted to show a united front to common threats from Russia and China. Together they also reiterated to address common threat of Coronavirus Pandemic. Accordingly, Dominic Raab, UK Foreign Secretary greeted other members through fist-bumping on the venue. Therefore, it makes it imperative to decipher the dynamics behind the meeting and its outcome.
Following were the main objectives of the meeting:
- to deal with perceived threats from China and Russia;
- to allow the diplomats to hold informal discussions in-person;
- to ensure fair access to vaccines around the Globe;
- to set targets for global girls’ education and women employment;
- to hammer out agreement for ambitious actions on climate change;
- to develop new measures to prevent famine in different parts of the world;
The So-called Outcome:
- US and UK discussed NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan on the side lines of the meeting;
- US and UK also discussed threat emanating from Russia over the recent past and warned Russia to respect international law;
- Raab accused Russia of ‘Saber rattling’ owing to its actions on Ukraine border, and asked to give diplomacy a chance to resolve the impending issues;
- US and UK also discussed about their nationals presently held hostage by Iran and ways to get them released;
- UK also interacted with Japan to explore free-trade deals in the aftermath of Brexit and has also applied for joining Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which is a free-trade agreement of largely Pacific nations including Japan;
- G-7 countries have planned to set-up a $15-billion fund to be administered by developing countries over the next two years in furtherance of objectives highlighted above. Majorly they are scheduled to sign a new global target of getting 40 million more girls into schools low and lower-middle-income countries by 2026 and include 20 million more girls into school by the time they are 10 years old;
- The ministers at the meeting pledged to work with industry to expand the production of affordable COVID-19 vaccines. They proposed to do it by promoting partnerships between companies, and encouraging voluntary licensing and technology transfer agreements on mutually agreed terms. However, they failed to include waiver of intellectual property rights of major pharma firms.
As stated above, India is not a G-7 member but was invited to attend the meeting along with some other countries. Indian External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar could not participate in-person and attended the meeting online as two of the members of the delegation tested COVID-19 positive. The Indian team isolated itself thereafter. The meeting was to demonstrate the growing significance of the Indo-Pacific region. G-7 meeting was a crucial opportunity for India to revitalize in-person diplomacy which was missed by the Indian delegates. It would have facilitated India to establish a shared approach among world’s leading democracies on equitable vaccine access, oxygen crunch, and other health related infrastructure and equipment. It would have also helped India to hammer out something for itself in areas of girls’ education, finance for climate change related efforts and explore new measures to prevent famine and food security through informal diplomatic activities. Though the Joint Communique makes a mention of all such initiatives yet India missed the opportunities to interact bilaterally with delegates from other countries on the fringes of the official G-7 meetings.
The Dynamics Behind:
Some significant geopolitical events have taken place over the lase few decades which the West has become wary of as it could not capitalize on the same in its own favour: first, the collapse of Soviet Union and the dismantling of the Cold War; second, China’s spectacular economic and military rise over the last 40 years; thirdly the attack on US’s Twin Tower of World Trade Centre, which exposed the vulnerability of US to non-state actors; and the fourth is the COVID-19 driven Pandemic and consequent collapse of global health infrastructure, global leadership, global governance and vulnerability of multilateral institutions like WHO. These events have grossly undermined the superiority of the West in the eyes of China, Russia and many other of their allies. Therefore, West is exploring ways of strengthening their lost glory and power. G-7 summit is one such multilateral forum through which they are trying to presume the leadership of the world once again. How far G-7 would be successful towards deterring their adversaries Russia and China, would continue to be interesting to watch in future. Even the 2019 minister level summit had focused on fighting gender inequality and protecting biodiversity but nothing much could happen thereafter in concrete terms.
The meeting ended with joint communique in which the leaders expressed their solidarity and support for Ukraine and Taiwan. They also castigated Russia as malicious and China as bully. They accused Russia of undermining democracy and threatening Ukraine. They accused China as guilty of human rights abuses and of using its economic clout to bully others. Thus overall, the meetings turned out to be a talking shop where the ministers met and talked without taking any concrete steps towards furtherance of the objectives that have been highlighted above. They used verbal accusations which was misleading as the communique had nothing which would deter Putin and Jinping. Therefore, what remains to be seen is the upcoming G-7 summit of leaders where Biden would take the lead. Biden is making all efforts to put US foreign policy on rails, which was derailed by Trump dispensation. 40-nation meeting organised at the call of Biden in April 2021 was an initiative to steer the progress on Climate Change. June 2021 G-7 meeting would be second multilateral summit where hopefully, some concrete actions would be the real outcome.
*Vandana Mihsra is a Research Scholar and can be reached at [email protected]