After the G7 Summit (11-13 June), a lengthy joint statement containing its plan was issued. This was the first in-person meeting of the leaders after the pandemic disrupted such meetings, though PM Modi as a special invitee participated virtually. The joint statement issued as the Carbis Bay G7 Summit Communique focussed on the health-related issues, need for vaccines, reinvigorating economies, securing future prosperity by having a ‘freer, fairer trade within a reformed trading system, a more resilient global economy, and a fairer global tax system’, protecting the planet by cutting emissions, strengthening of partnership and harnessing the power of democracy, freedom, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights.
The debate on the second day was dominated by China related issues. An analysis of the discussions suggests that the powers recognise the urgent necessity to contain Dragon’s unabated aggressiveness aimed at redefining the rules for the global order in its favour through a strategy based on power projection, debt trap diplomacy, propaganda rooted in falsehood and mendacity as also changing the facts on the ground. The joint statement reveals some important aspects of the G7 concerns and stratagem.
First, the G7 recommended the need for investigations into the origin of the Covid-19. It expressed commitment for a timely, transparent, expert-led, and science-based WHO-convened Phase 2 COVID-19 Origin’s study including, as recommended by the experts’ report, in China. Recently, a number of reports and studies in different countries have concluded that the virus originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The suspicion has now taken the shape of a firm belief on the Chinese role in deliberately concealing the facts.
Second, the leaders stressed on the economic recovery through the build, back better for all by strengthening education and upskilling, and facilitating labour market participation and transitions to ‘level up’ of economies so that no geographic region was left behind. It emphasised a reformed trading system, a more resilient global economy and a fairer global tax system. While committing to collaborate with all to ensure their well-being, special mention of technology was made indicating its use to counter the Chinese sinister designs. The G7 committed to work with all partners and allies for open and human-centric approach to artificial intelligence. These steps are considered important to protect the weaker nations from falling into the debt trap diplomacy, which China projects as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Third, realising the urgent need for vaccines and how China was making efforts to woo nations by promising the Chinese vaccines of doubtful efficacy, the G7 committed to share at least 870 million doses directly over the next year.
Fourth, it clearly pointed out that ‘the agenda for global action was built on the commitment to international cooperation, multilateralism and an open, resilient, rules-based world order’. The rule-based order and multilateralism are anathema to China, which not only rejected the Ruling of PCA in 2016 but also keeps on encroaching on the EEZs of other countries violating UNCLOS.
Fifth, the G7 expressed serious concerns over the Chinese use of forced labours of vulnerable groups and minorities in global supply chains and continued suppression of residents of Hong Kong. They underscored the importance of upholding human rights and of international labour standards in a clear reference to China. They called on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang and those rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law.
Sixth, importantly the G7 highlighted the importance of maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo Pacific, based on the rule of law. It underscored the centrality of ASEAN and the need for peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. It also expressed serious concerns about the situation in the East and South China Seas and strongly opposed any unilateral attempts to change the status quo and increase tensions.
In essence, the G7 designed an overall strategy to contain the undesirable Chinese activities. It includes economic, technological, political and diplomatic dimensions. The leaders rightly stressed on providing financial support to weaker nations so that the latter may not become victims of the Chinese machinations- a major plank of the Chinese gameplan. The G7 has also outlined the plan for cooperation with others including all the Quad partners and G20 nations. The steps for infrastructure development and use of technology are realistic measures. Alongside, the G7 is focussing on pressurising China to change its approach of repressing minorities and abide by the agreement in Hong Kong.
The decisions in G7 suggest the growing realisation of the significance of the free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific (FOIP) that depends on four main pillars- prosperity of all, a rule based governing system with freedom of navigation as defined in the UNCLOS, end to end supply chains that are not controlled by a single country, and respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states. The G7 has confirmed the perception of the Quad on the Indo-Pacific as the 21st century’s locus of political and security concerns and competition for growth and development and of technology incubation. A significant aspect of G7 plan is to push the FOIP by seeking cooperation from all stakeholders to achieve its objectives. In fact, the G7 has taken a few steps forward towards its actualisation. The US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has aptly remarked that G7 statement was a significant move forward around the need to “counter and compete” with China on challenges ranging from safeguarding democracy to the technology race.
The G7 joint statement has rattled China that has strongly criticised Beijing on violation of human rights and demolishing the autonomy of Hong Kong as also destroying peace and stability of the Taiwan Straits. The Chinese Embassy in London stated that the G7 had distorted the facts and it exposed the “sinister intentions of a few countries such as the United States”. In a veiled threat, the Chinese Embassy declared that it has bottom lines while indicating that China’s reputation must not be slandered. The Chinese reaction suggests how damaging it finds the developments pertaining to the FOIP and also points out its vulnerabilities.
However, there are certain challenges that require attention. The most daunting task is to ensure the support of ASEAN, which has to play a central role. This is the most vulnerable aspect of the Indo-Pacific construct. A hard fact is that not all countries in this bloc can withstand the coercion of China. While some countries are its vassal states, most hesitate to be seen as anti-China because of their huge economic dependence on that country. China also uses its economic power to tempt them to remain docile, while simultaneously flexing its muscles to deter the disputants from opposing the Chinese claims in the South China Sea. Besides, China has also weaponised the rivers to put pressure on lower riparian countries. Not all ASEAN countries have maritime dispute with China and therefore they are not directly concerned with the Chinese claim in the nine-dash-line. These factors allow China to keep its hold on the bloc. The centrality of ASEAN for Indo-Pacific demands a greater focus on this group to ensure that they are not pressurised to toe the Chinese line and creating obstacles in realisation of the FOIP. While economic support is vital, an independent supply chain needs to be put in place at the earliest for smooth transfer of their trade system from the Chinese dominated supply chain.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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