G-7 heads of state met at Carbis Bay in Cornwall, England for a three-day 47th Annual Summit on June 11-13, 2021. The last one was held in France in August 2019; and the 46th scheduled in US was cancelled due to COVID-19 surge. Alongside USA, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, the seven members of the ‘rich democracy club’ the other members who participated as special invitee were Australia, India, South Korea and South Africa.
The Group of Seven was set-up in 1975 to coordinate global economic policy, international security, energy policy and address other transnational issues of global concerns. Since then, the Group has come a long way and now it’s very existence and relevance are being questioned in the contemporary world. Probably, with the evolution and concretisation of G-20 many experts opine that G-7 has outlived its utility. Hence, it may be allowed to dissolve itself. Major issues that were doing the round in international print and electronic media, which the G-7 intended to focus and address were:
- Commit one-billion doses of vaccine donation to vaccinate the world;
- Lift obstacles to facilitate vaccination in Africa and other poor countries;
- Explore the ways to bring COVID-19 Pandemic to an end;
- Further investigate into the origin of COVID-19 including China i.e., new scrutiny on the lab leak theory;
- Ways to confront the “harmful activities of the governments of China and Russia.”
- US intent to take tougher stance against China for its actions against Taiwan, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, oppressive legal interventions to supress democratic voice in Hongkong, and for claiming the whole of South China Sea scuttling freedom of navigation. It basically meant to contain China in its multiple dimensions.
- To see the launch of a “Clean Green Initiative”, an alternative to rival China’s Belt and Road Initiative with an objective to support sustainable development in the developing world;
- To explore the ways of meeting the demand of accelerating ‘climate change’ crisis;
- Promoting future prosperity by championing free and fair trade.
What Exactly G-7 Summit could Achieve:
“Building Back Better” was the main theme of the Summit. Hence, most of the sessions were titled around that theme. Like the session on Climate Change was titled, “Building Back Greener: Climate and Nature”, which highlighted the non-democratic and unequal nature of global governance institutions. Host Prime Minister of UK Boris Johnson addressed the eleven participating countries as “Democracies 11” and signed the Joint Statement along with others towards the concluding session, “Building Back Together: Open Societies and Economies.” The statement said: “We are at a critical juncture, facing threats to freedom and democracy from rising authoritarianism, electoral interference, corruption, economic coercion, manipulation of information, including disinformation, online harms and cyber-attacks, politically motivated internet shutdowns, human rights violations and abuses, terrorism and violent extremism.” Thus, the major results of Summit were:
- A pledge to vaccinate the poor countries; (Though pledged one-billion doses worldwide, G-7 leaders were accused of ‘moral failure’)
- A promise to make large corporations pay their fair share of taxes;
- A plan to tackle climate change with a blend of technology and money;
- Encourage values of freedom of expression both online and offline, as a freedom that safeguards democracy and ensures people live in free from fear of oppression;
- Reiterated ‘politically motivated internet shutdown’ as threat to democracy;
- Cyberspace remain an avenue for advancing democratic values and not of subverting it (Stressed by Indian PM Modi in his address);
Major Dynamics behind the G-7 Summit:
Seven members of G-7 are the seven leading players in the global economy. Hence, their main concern happened to be the ‘status of global economy’ and how they should design the same so that the ‘Balance of Global Trade’ remains in their favour. However, with changing structure of world order and international politics G-7 too has tailor-made its role for the world. Contemporary world order is such where China is mostly setting the agenda for most bilateral and multilateral meetings and engagements. US has come to realise that its leadership of the world is on the wane. Hence, it has been making all efforts to gain the leadership of the world using most of the multilateral forum and building relevant bilateral ties. G-7 is one such forum which US intents to use to its best advantages.
Some western media projected that it is going to be the US last chance to lead the world. It became more obvious when, Biden wrote in Washington Post, on the eve of G-7 Summit, that “the United States must lead the world from a position of strength”. Hence, this became Biden’s first foreign visit as President. Major challenge before him is to reconcile his interests with erstwhile US allies which was largely damaged and antagonized by Trump. Thus, US is the major driving force behind this Summit for several reasons.
Firstly, US has been busy evolving mechanism to contain China’s rise in different regions and globally. QUAD is one such mechanism. Challenges to strengthen QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue consisting of Australia, US, Japan and India) has been lately felt and US may have been trying to make it a potent force in the Indo-Pacific to contain China’s expanding outreach in the South China Sea and the maritime littorals.
Secondly, US during the days of Trump itself was envisaging to expand G-7 to make it G-11 with the inclusion of India, South Africa, South Korea and Australia. Though, Trump wanted to include Russia as well. However, the evolving dynamics has put Russia and US at loggerheads. Hence, these countries are participating in the Summit to drive home this message that G-7 is gearing up to expand itself.
Thirdly, Biden’s scheduled NATO Summit; US-EU Summit, Biden-Putin Summit and now G-7 Summit are clear indication that US is getting pro-active in international affairs. These Summit highlight the major focus of Biden administration’s foreign policy. US is trying to assume the leadership role in the world. May be because of its own global ambitions US has been exaggerating the threat from China to enhance its alliance not only on security but also from strategic dimension. Thus, recent spate of China bashing by US may have provided fillers to US as the best way to prevail over the global politics. Hence, US is calling its European allies to support US in the second cold war with China.
Fourthly, US has been challenging another major power of the world which has been its rival during the first cold war. US has imposed sanctions against Russa on account of Russian actions against Ukraine; its management of Crimea; suppression of its opposition leader Alexei Anatolievich. However, Russian President warned the US that the US is walking the path of the Soviet Union, by his ambitions and through vested interests of transforming G-7 from a designed framework for economic development into one of ‘anti-Russia and anti-China club.’
Lastly, US policy of China bashing has been one of the major topics of analysis in Global Times. China accused US of ‘fanning confrontation’ and said that ganging up, pursuing block politics and forming small cliques are unpopular and bound to fail. Hence, China has very well understood the dynamics of US foreign policy and waning power of US over the last twenty years or so. Therefore, China is continuously opposing US moves without being deterred by it. China also passed a new law when the G-7 Summit conference took off, to counter foreign sanctions. This was probably a symbolic gesture to Western nations that their counter measures, be it over the issue of Hong Kong, Xinjiang, trade or technology, will be met with strong retaliation. US has not choice but to retaliate aggressively.
Aspirations and Geopolitical Significance of Special Invitee:
Four countries which have been invited at G-7 Summit have their own concerns that they wished to be raised and addressed. However, they were generally invited because of their strategic importance in the region in which they are placed. The strategic importance is for US in particular and the West in general. One commonality is that they are fit for ‘Coalition for Democracy” as being envisaged gradually.
Australia, serves as one of the pillars of US Indo-Pacific Strategy which aims at containing China. Australia is interested to garner support for its escalating trade dispute with China. Accordingly, Scott Morrison the Prime Minister of Australia called the G-7 to endorse reform of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to address the growing use of economic concerns, but in vain.
South Korea carries importance because of its role on the South and North Korea axis. North Korea is viewed as a strategic partner of China. South Korea also has major concerns in Indo-Pacific like Australia and India. Hence, Japan is interested towards strengthening the G-7 to gear-up itself for enhanced activities in Indo-Pacific and resorts to activities that amounts to containment of China in the maritime region. Given South China Sea debacle, Australia, together with South Korea provides good buffer for the West.
India has its own concerns relating to China and any forum that resorts to containment of China would be of great interest to India, without being obvious part of it. Hence, India has been exploring possibilities of being a partner to all those multilateral exercises that has anything anti-China in it. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi participated on virtual platform and gave the mantra of “One World One Health” which was strongly supported by German Chancellor. Modi emphasised for open supply chains for vaccine raw materials and components to help enhance production of vaccine in countries like India. However, India’s main importance for the G-7 is to counterbalance China in the Indo-Pacific. Since 2014 this is second time India has been invited. French presidency when organised in 2019 India was invited.
South Africa has been invited because it represents the entire continent of Africa and carries more weight compare to other countries on the continent. Its strategic importance is because of China’s massive expansive strategy in Africa. South Africa could thus become the fulcrum of US pivot to Africa. However, South Africa carries good relations with China therefore how the future course of action would shape is difficult to predict at this stage.
G-7 is a remnant of the past and its influence is on the decline. This is an obvious fact in view of the growing influence of G-20. However, US under Biden has endeavoured to revive it for greater purposes of US global aspirations. The path however is full of challenges:
Firstly, world’s economic and political centre of gravity has shifted eastward. China is at the centre of this gravity. Hence, given China’s economic prowess it would be next to impossible to keep the G-7 flock together. The silent rise of China is looming large all over the world. Most multilateral summits have registered strong presence of China, even without being there. Consequently, China has been setting the agenda of the global events.
Secondly, though G-7 is trying to adopt a united front at least in certain areas, in the wake of China’s rise and assertations; yet they are careful not to disturb and damage their bilateral relations with China. According to Global Times there exists a fundamental divergence among G-7 as to how to deal with China. Hence, coming together against China is doubtful. Chinese observers according to the paper believed that though major Western countries would reach “symbolic solidarity” in forming a united front for China bashing by playing ideology and values card, but would not be able to move substantially. Reason is explicit. When the world is in the process of recovering from the Pandemic the Chinese market and investment matters a lot to all the G-7 countries.
Thirdly, Biden reached UK in advance, probably to mobilise support and recruit allies for his next cold war with China. However, most of his plans and initiatives were unclear as to how he is going to achieve his objectives. Hence, China called it “mission impossible”. According to China, US has lost much of its influence, hence is anxious to persuade major allies and European countries in forming an anti-China bloc after his G-7 trip. US may also be making attempt at strategically pivoting NATO toward China. However, it would prohibit US allies from rising to the occasion as they are advanced market democracies which would not stop cooperating with China.
Undoubtedly, there has been a decline in the competitiveness of US and Western-led governance of the global economy and security. This could be rectified and strengthened only through substantive reforms, which the G-7 countries are unable to initiate. On-going Pandemic has further contributed to the decline.
US determines its friends or foes on the basis of democratic values. However, its other allies may have their own limitations and chose to be increasingly pragmatic while choosing friends and foes. It is quite obvious that economic diplomacy precedes other diplomacy in contemporary international relations. China is economically looming large all over the world, therefore, it is here to stay and difficult to be pushed on the fringe. Given such circumstances G-7 would again turnout to be a toothless tiger. International Cooperation is yet to come back.