Following years of disruption and open disagreements during the Trump administration, the Group of Seven (G7) club of industrialized nations came together in Britain in a united challenge to China.
Over the weekend the G7 announced a new set of major initiatives including a “Build Back Better World” (B3W) global infrastructure development scheme pitched as a “values-driven, high-standard and transparent” alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Cognizant of China’s “vaccine diplomacy”, and growing criticism of Western hoarding of global vaccine supplies, the G7 also announced its commitment to provide up to a billion free Covid-19 vaccines to the developing world.
US President Joe Biden, who has placed China at the heart of his global strategy, has been the driving force behind the mega-initiatives in tandem with key allies. The stated aim is not to compete with China on a dollar-to-dollar or vaccine-to-vaccine basis per se, but instead provide the rules of the road for a transparent and democratic global order.
It marks a major departure from the days of the Trump administration, which alienated G7 allies with its bellicose and “America First” protectionist rhetoric, while constantly criticizing China without providing any concrete alternatives.
In a statement, the White House described the B3W as an indispensable initiative to “help narrow the $40+ trillion infrastructure need in the developing world, which has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.”
“The driving animating purpose of this G7 summit is to show that democracy can deliver against the biggest challenges we’re facing in the world,” a senior Biden administration official told the media, underscoring the ideological element of the grouping as a club of like-minded democracies.
In a thinly-veiled jab at China’s BRI, the US official maintained that the B3W initiative, “will embrace a high standards, transparent, climate-friendly, non-corrupt mechanism” for big-ticket infrastructure projects in the developing world.
Both the Trump and Biden administrations have openly accused China of engaging in predatory investment practices, which subvert established rules on good governance and environmental sustainability.
Eager to dispel the fog of a “New Cold War”, however, the Biden administration has insisted that, “[t]his is not just about confronting or taking on China,” but instead “providing an affirmative, positive alternative vision for the world.”
Last week, the US in tandem with Australia, Japan and European partners co-organized a multi-stakeholders technical meeting in Paris, which discussed the revival and expansion of the Blue Dot Network (BDN) infrastructure project.
Down the road, the US and its allies will likely merge the B3W and BDN as a combined initiative against China’s BRI.
The Biden administration is eager to “collectively catalyze” trillions of dollars of investments in strategic developing country from an expanded pool of “G10” nations, which includes G7 plus India, Australia and South Korea, as well as Western Big Tech companies, Wall Street and sovereign wealth fund managers from likeminded nations.
The G7 leaders, however, slightly diverged on Biden’s call for publicly confronting China, including on issues of human rights and democracy, from the repression of Uighur minority in Xinjiang to the suppression of democratic forces in Hong Kong.
The UK, France and Canada backed Biden’s call for a tougher joint statement, while Germany, a major exporter to China, and Italy, the only Western European nation to support the BRI, have preferred a more tempered approach. Nonetheless, German Chancellor Angela Merkel endorsed a mega-infrastructure alternative to China’s.
“We can’t sit back and say that China will do it but it’s the G7’s ambition to have a positive agenda for a number of countries in the world which are still lagging behind … I welcome it,” the German leader said, long seen as the de facto leader of Europe.
Growing domestic support has encouraged Biden’s push for a united front against China on the global stage. Last week, the US Senate overwhelmingly passed (68-32 vote) a bipartisan bill, which provides up to $250 billion over the next five years for investments in research and development to enhance America’s technological competitiveness and self-sufficiency against a resurgent China.
“Either we can concede the mantle of global leadership to our adversaries or we can pave the way for another generation of American leadership,” declared Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic majority leader who helped spearhead the bipartisan bill.
The bill provides $52 billion in emergency subsidies for the development of the semiconductor industry amid a global scramble for computer chips and growing emphasis on strategic high-tech resources in the past year.
The Democratic-led bill received high levels of support among Republicans, who have welcomed the foreign policy hawkish turn among their rivals.
As many as 19 Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell, backed the historic bill, reflecting a rare but likely enduring domestic convergence on the China issue.
“Today we declare our intention to win this century, and those that follow it as well,” exclaimed Republican Senator Todd Young of Indiana, who co-sponsored to China-centered tech-investment bill.
The G7 pow-wow marked the US president’s first overseas visit in the midst of a still-raging pandemic, underscoring the importance of traditional allies to the new American administration.
Composed of the UK, the US, Italy, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan, the G7’s relevance has come under question in the past decade.
During its founding half-a-century ago, the club was a formidable force, accounting for more than two-thirds of global economic output.
But the precipitous rise of emerging economies in the 21st century, and the ensuing establishment of more inclusive permutations such as the Group of Twenty (G20), has put into question the very raison dêtre of the seemingly cliquish and passe grouping.
The rise of authoritarian superpowers such as China, however, has given new impetus to the largely Western grouping, with like-minded democracies of Australia, South Korea, India and South Africa invited as special guests to the latest “extended family” G7 confab.
As the summit’s host, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson emphasized the increasingly ideological character of G7 by adopting a “new Atlantic Charter”, which harkens back to transatlantic cooperation during the Second World War.
He also insisted that the UK has an “indestructible” relationship with the US, which encouraged its Western allies to downplay lingering differences over London’s post-Brexit relations with the European Union.
Over the weekend, the Western leaders and their spouses projected bonhomie following a beach barbecue event. Earlier, Queen Elizabeth II also hosted a reception for the G7 leaders at Cornwall’s Eden Project, which showcased ecological riches across the world.