By Vinay Kaura
The summit of the G-7 industrial powers hosted by the United Kingdom in Cornwall can be termed historic. The digital participation of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also marked a significant step towards a new global partnership between India and the leading Western democracies. The credit should be given to US President Joe Biden for bringing the G-7 into the forefront of contemporary international relations.
This was President Biden’s first visit to Europe as the US president. He continued his European visit by attending the NATO conclave in Brussels, before his landmark conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, where former US President Ronald Reagan held his famous first meeting with Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985. What remains beyond doubt is America’s resolve to counter a resurgent and increasingly powerful China. Since the global financial crisis of 2008, the perception of the West’s decline has become the conventional wisdom in international political discourse.
As the ‘America First’ policies of the Trump administration deepened the schism in the West and the Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc across North America and Western Europe, China has felt emboldened and become more aggressive.
But the Biden administration has made it clear that Washington is determined to reverse the global perception of America’s decline. Without losing time, Biden elevated the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or the ‘Quad’ to the summit level in March, and declared his commitment to the new political geography of the Indo-Pacific.
During Biden’s Cornwall visit, the US and the UK signed a new version of the Atlantic Charter, which will focus on cyber-attacks, Covid-19 and its impact on the global economy, and climate change. This was an attempt to refresh America’s “special relationship” with Britain.
Biden describes the competition between democracy and authoritarianism as a defining struggle of our time. During the G-7 summit, Biden has highlighted a set of political values as a counterweight to the authoritarian juggernaut led by an aggressive China. He has indicated continuing resolve to help the countries stand up to China’s growing assertiveness. The G-7 has sought thorough investigations into China’s role in the outbreak of COVID-19 as new scientific evidence keeps emerging about Beijing’s alleged culpability in the leak of the virus from the Wuhan lab.
The G-7 countries have also pushed for a rules-based international order, and have challenged China’s “non-market policies and practices”. China’s stealth capitalism has come under increasing criticism that has allowed China to penetrate Western markets without giving reciprocal access to its own market. As expected, the G-7 has condemned China’s appalling human rights record and gross violation of individual freedoms in Chinese territories. Moreover, China has been asked to respect “autonomy for Hong Kong enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law.”
Perhaps for the first time and significantly, Taiwan was mentioned, with the leaders underscoring the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.
The G-7 has now attempted to address the problems posed by China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) through the Build Back Better World (B3W). This new initiative has been conceptualized by the Biden administration to meet the growing infrastructure needs of the developing world. The G-7 is expected to steer new infrastructure partnerships across the world, while countering Beijing’s BRI push.
What we need to understand here is that the B3W is not just a financial response to the BRI but should be viewed as a geo-economic response to the threats of China’s ‘debt trap’ diplomacy. Though it is not clear yet how it will work out financially and institutionally, it will certainly require whole-hearted participation of all G-7 countries as well as India, Australia, South Korea and South Africa who were invited to the Cornwall summit.
It remains to be seen how European members of G-7 would manage their individual economic relationships with China. In particular, Germany, regarded as the economic engine of the European Union (EU), will need to act proactively in this regard because it has extensive economic partnership with China.
Growing engagement with the G-7 is an important opportunity for India to expand its partnerships with the US and Europe
As far as India is concerned, it cannot avoid participating in the B3W initiative because India has always been opposed to China’s BRI. Besides, growing engagement with the G-7 is an important opportunity for India to expand its partnerships with the US and Europe. But what gives particular salience to India’s participation in the G-7 summit this year is the underlying conception of the invitation by the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. He is keen to build a coalition of leading democracies to counter authoritarian states. However, critics believe that it may ultimately come to take the shape of an anti-China alliance.
Interestingly, the former US President Donald Trump had also suggested that G-7 should be called “G10 or G11”. Trump’s idea had found favour with India which has long demanded reforms in all major global institutions to reflect contemporary geopolitical realities. Trump had even proposed a summit of such a groping in late 2020. But the Covid-19 and the US election outcome prevented such a meeting. It remains to be seen if Biden and Johnson agree to form a global alliance of democratic countries. This was the second time Prime Minister Modi took part in a G-7 meeting. India had been invited by the G-7 in 2019 to the Biarritz Summit as a “Goodwill Partner”. This time, PM Modi delivered his virtual speech during which he made a strong pitch for a coordinated global response against Covid-19 and future pandemics with the mantra of “One earth, one health”. Furthermore, Modi’s statement that India is a natural ally of G-7 due to its civilizational commitment to democracy and freedom of thought and liberty, should be welcomed.
The G-7 statement spelt out the total commitment of participating countries to human rights for all, both online and offline, democracy, social inclusion, gender equality, freedom of expression and rule of law. The world has been witnessing backsliding on these values, and this is an important signal that democratic nations can unite on the basis of these values.
India’s continued engagement with the G-7 is a testimony to its inherent economic and political strength. Though it will be difficult to translate the broad convergences between India and the West into concrete cooperation, India’s refusal to become part of the China-led Asian order requires India to make sustained efforts in reforming the global economic order, mitigating climate change and making the world immune to future pandemics.
– The writer teaches international affairs and security studies at the Sardar Patel University of Police, Security and Criminal Justice, Jodhpur, Rajasthan. He is also a non-resident Scholar at the Middle East Institute, Washington DC. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda