The G-7 steps up pressure on China - SOAS China Institute

//The G-7 steps up pressure on China

The G-7 steps up pressure on China

G7 Leaders summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall (June, 2021). – Photo credit: Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street

By Duncan Bartlett | 24 June 2021

The recent summit of G7 leaders in Cornwall ended with a series of rebukes for China’s actions in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, as well as grand plan to counter the Belt and Road Initiative.

Joe Biden set clear goals for his first trip abroad as US president.


He promised to use his week-long trip to Europe to strengthen alliances and “make it clear to Putin and to China that Europe and the US are tight.”


His meetings began in the UK with friendly talks with his British hosts, as well as some colourful photo sessions with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, his new wife Carrie.


Mr Johnson said that the UK and the US have an “indestructible relationship.”


The government invited all the senior members of the British royal family to greet their international guests in Cornwall, including Prince Charles, the Duke and Duchess of Wessex and the Queen.


Then, in glorious sunshine beside Carbis Bay on the English Southern coast, Mr Biden basked in the welcome of the leaders of the G7 countries, which represent the world’s most stable, prosperous and liberal democracies. The president seized the opportunity to reassert US leadership in the democratic world and to promote transatlantic cooperation.


Mr Biden said: “America is back in the business of leading the world alongside nations which share our mostly deeply held values. I think we’ve made progress in reestablishing credibility among our closest friends.”


Several other leaders expressed their feelings towards Mr Biden in warm body language – especially Emmanuel Macron, who threw his arms around him – suggesting relief that the US has returned to the diplomatic fold after Donald Trump’s confrontational and inward-looking presidency.


The UK also invited some other nations to attend the G7 summit as observers. The leaders of Australia, South Africa and South Korea came to Cornwall, with the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, joining by video link.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab hosting the G7 foreign leaders meeting (May, 2021). – Photo credit: Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street

There was a great deal in the summit’s discussions and in its final communique which was pertinent to Asia. Particularly significant was the announcement of a global infrastructure plan, to give developing countries an alternative to doing business with China through its Belt and Road initiative. The G7 will offer financing for infrastructure, from railways to wind farms.


Prime Minister Johnson said: “We have a responsibility to help developing countries reap the benefits of green growth, through a fair and transparent system.” He pledged to “turbocharge” a shift towards renewable energy, powered by advanced technology.


This ambition aligns closely with the policies of the governments of South Korea and Japan, who hope their multinational corporations will benefit from a surge in green investment.


South Korea’s presidential office revealed that President Moon Jae-in had a brief conversation with Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide in Cornwall. The two leaders said they were glad to see each other.


It was the first time they had exchanged words in person since Mr Suga took office last September and followed a recent court ruling in Seoul that restricts plaintiffs from suing Japanese corporations in relation to historic allegations of forced labour and exploitation.


There was a much more substantive conversation between Mr Suga and the French President Emmanuel Macron, who agreed on closer cooperation in security, technology and on North Korea, according to NHK. During the meeting, Mr Suga welcomed France’s stronger engagement in the Indo-Pacific region, including deployment of its navy.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and South Korean President Moon Jae-in during the G7 Leaders Summit meeting in Carbis Bay (June, 2021). – Photo credit: Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street

North Korea was also one of the topics covered in a telephone call from Cornwall by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the top Chinese diplomat, Yang Jiechi.


The State Department said they “discussed the United States’ comprehensive DPRK policy review, focusing on the need for the United States and the PRC to work together for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”


Mr Blinken and South Korea’s Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong held a meeting in Cornwall in which they “reaffirmed commitment to close cooperation between and among the United States, the Republic of Korea and Japan on a broad range of issues” according to the State Department.


Mr Blinken also used his call to Yang Jiechi to speak bluntly on a range of concerns. He repeated America’s accusation that the Chinese are committing “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity” in Xinjiang and asked China to cease its pressure campaign against Taiwan and peacefully resolve cross-strait issues.


In response, Yang Jiechi urged the US to respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, not to interfere in China’s internal affairs under any pretext and not to damage China’s core interests in any way.


A spokesperson from the Chinese Embassy in the UK dismissed the event in Cornwall as “pseudo-multilateralism serving the interests of a small clique or political bloc.”


There was a further challenge to China when the G7 leaders were joined by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director general. He seemed to endorse US and Australian demands for further investigation into claims that the Covid-19 virus may have emerged from a laboratory in Wuhan.


Referring to the millions around the world who have died, Dr Tedros said: “This is very tragic and I think the respect these people deserve is knowing what the origin of this virus is, so we can prevent it from happening again.”


He urged the leaders at the meeting to ensure that 70% of the global population is vaccinated by the time of the G7’s next summit in Germany next year. Japan’s prime minister Suga Yoshihide is leading the drive to persuade wealthy countries to fund the COVAX vaccine programme, administered by the WHO, in part to counterbalance China’s vaccine diplomacy.


The final communique called on China “to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang” and pressed for a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong.


Diplomatic sources say the draft wording would have been more strongly critical of China if the US had prevailed but was slightly watered down on the suggestion of France, Germany, Italy and Japan.


Speaking to Fox News Sunday, Secretary of State Blinken said that last time the G7 met in 2018, there was no mention of China in its summing up document.


Mr Blinken said the meeting in Cornwall has demonstrated that democracies “can come together and deliver for people in real ways” and he emphasized the G7’s promise to “build back better for the world.”


Following his appearance at the G7 summit, President Biden joined the Queen for a state banquet at Windsor Castle. Afterwards, he and Mr Blinken will attend EU-US and Nato summits in Brussels before meeting the Russian president Vladimir Putin in Geneva.

Duncan Bartlett is the Editor of Asian Affairs magazine and a Research Associate at the SOAS China Institute, where he hosts the Institute’s weekly podcast, China In Context. He is currently teaching diplomacy and international relations on the Economist Executive Education course, the New Global Order.

The views expressed on this blog are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of the SOAS China Institute.


Originally published by The Diplomat on 15 June 2021.