08.06.2021 – 09:00
High-level international meetings come and go, amidst floods staged and unread communications. But the G7 summit in Cornwall later this week could be such a rare event that actually matters to the individual countries involved, to the Western alliance and to the wider world. For Boris Johnson, who is hosting the meeting, it is a chance to counteract any prolonged impression that he is a cynical lightweight, and to demonstrate that he can lead a major international meeting.
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom must also show that “Global Britain” is more than just a slogan. For Joe Biden, on his first trip abroad as president of the US, it is an opportunity to demonstrate that America is back. Biden has made it clear that he intends to rally the world’s democracies by retreating against Russia and China. The US president will have a bilateral meeting with Johnson, followed by three summit meetings with democratic allies – first the G7, then NATO, then an EU-US summit before continuing with a meeting with Vladimir Putin in Geneva.
It aims to bring a unified message from America and its democratic allies to that meeting with the Russian president. The G7 summit will also send an indirect message to China. The line of propaganda drawn from Beijing is that the west is in steady decline. A successful G7 summit could revive the idea that the West can provide global leadership in alliance with other democracies in Asia and the world. The G7’s identity as a club of democracies gives it renewed importance in an era of growing tension between China and the west. The seven main countries US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada first met in the 1970s. At the end of the Cold War, Russia was invited to join the group, turning the club into the G8.
But the Russian Federation rose again after its annexation of Crimea in 2014. The big challenge to the importance of the G7 is the decline of the share of the world economy represented by those seven core nations. As Chatham House Renata Duan of a UK think tank points out, in the 1970s the G7 nations accounted for about 80 percent of the world’s gross domestic product. That is now at about 40 percent.
When the global financial crisis hit the world in 2008, a larger group of G7 countries was needed to pull the world economy out of the abyss. To deal with that emergency, the Bush administration convened the first ever G20 summit which included the original G7, plus growing economic powers like Brazil, India and, above all, China.
The G20’s success in organizing international action to avert a global depression seemed to confirm that the G7 moment had passed. There was even speculation that the group might never meet again. As U.S. president, Donald Trump ridiculed the group as outdated. It is the Biden administration’s renewed determination to push back against Moscow and Beijing that has given the G7 a new reason to exist. But the fact that the G7 no longer represents the bulk of the global economy and is leaning towards the Euro-Atlantic region remains a problem. To compensate, the group has invited four guests to the summit: Australia, India, South Africa and South Korea.
The fact that three of these guests are Asian countries underscores the group’s role in the departure against Beijing. However, some of the key issues on the agenda of the G7 summit pandemic, climate and trade ultimately require Chinese cooperation. They are global issues that cannot be resolved without the participation of the world’s most populous nation and second largest economy. The G7’s approach to this dilemma seems to be the attempt to secure a practical and moral advantage that creates momentum for a global agreement.
A prime example of the catch is the agreement already reached on a global minimum corporate tax rate, which is to be signed at this week’s G7 summit and then taken at the G20 summit later this year. The key question in Cornwall will be whether the G7 can find other practical initiatives that go beyond slogans to feel good about vaccinating the world, zero-zero emissions and “free and fair trade”. At Covid-19, a clear step would be the rapid increase in funding for Covax, the global vaccination program. The US and UK will also be under pressure to start donating more vaccines to the developing world, before they have achieved almost complete vaccination in the country.
In domestic politics, this can be difficult. But if the G7 avoids the challenge, China is able to become the engine of the global vaccination machine.
Since China is now the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, it would be futile for the G7 to use it only in the climate. But the group could advance the global agenda ahead of the COP26 summit in November by agreeing on some attractive joint initiatives ending subsidies for the coal industry, for example. A global pandemic provides an extremely challenging backdrop for the G7 summit. But a global crisis also offers a unique chance to show leadership. G7 should seize the opportunity may not come again.
Translated and adapted by Financial Times / FH, Konica.al