Seven nations and China

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The group of seven summit in June was refreshingly dull. Leaders were careful to project a sense of stability to the world while playing to their domestic audiences with a semi-combative stance. Following the tense relationship with President Trump in recent years, the 47th edition of the meeting painted a classic picture of back-slapping composure among participants. 

The rendezvous in Cornwall, however, was not merely a post-Trump event and the nations wanted primarily to project a credible front against the backdrop of an emerging China. Standing as a clear alternative to Beijing’s socialist system, the group of seven wanted to show the world that economic development in their countries is a direct result of their liberal democratic credentials. 

The summit reaffirmed a belief in transatlantic cooperation as a global force for development. Leaders of the club members did their best to portray a confident, unified voice and spoke directly to the rest of the world, declaring a commitment towards vaccine donations and climate action. 

Divergence between the countries, though, were bubbling just beneath the surface. Italy was not prepared to sever ties with China, even if premier Mario Draghi said he would review the agreement signed by his predecessor. German Chancellor Angela Merkel remained unwilling to walk back from the Nord Stream 2 project with Russia. On the other hand, Canada’s Justin Trudeau and America’s Joe Biden were meeting while the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to Nebraska announced the cancellation of the project. Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga seemed more interested in securing support for the Tokyo Olympics while French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson sparred over the fallout from Brexit. 

But compared with previous summits during Donald Trump’s presidency, the meeting expressed a sense of productive optimism and reciprocal trust between leaders. It was indeed the first foreign trip by the new man in the White House, Joe Biden, who used the event as a platform to relaunch US-led multilateralism. 

In the closing press conference, President Biden said that the leaders will be judged on their willingness to curb the international influence of autocrats, sniping at China’s Road and Belt initiative. But French President Emmanuel Macron was quick to point out that the G7 is not an anti-China club, insisting on pursuing a productive relationship with Beijing on core issues such as environmental policy and human rights. 

The meeting also had a bearing on the European project and reframed the relationship between the US, Canada, Britain, Japan, France, Italy, and Germany as an assembly of democratic nations with a global attitude. 

Time will tell whether the event will have any impact on other countries, but Beijing lost no time in dismissing the G7 as a small club that wants to dictate world affairs. That may have been just the quality of endorsement that the summit leaders were looking for. 

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