China may not be a part of the Group of Seven, the informal club made up of the world’s largest and wealthiest democracies, but its presence will likely loom large over the grouping’s first face-to-face summit in almost two years.
China, and the ideological challenges posed by its rise, is set to be among the most pressing topics facing leaders of the G7 when they gather in England on Friday.
In his first foreign trip as United States President, Joe Biden is expected to try and convince allies to join Washington in taking a tougher stance towards Beijing over its actions in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and the South China Sea among other areas.
Laying out his trip last week, Biden wrote in the Washington Post that “the United States must lead the world from a position of strength,” including on confronting the “harmful activities of the governments of China and Russia.”
In some areas, there are signs such a united front is already forming.
In a joint statement on Thursday, Biden and his British counterpart Boris Johnson vowed to support a further investigation into the origins of Covid-19, including in China.
Support from the UK and possibly other G7 Members will add weight to Biden’s push for a reexamination on the origins of the virus, including new scrutiny on the lab leak theory. Beijing lashed out at Biden’s call last month, accusing Washington of “political manipulation to shift the blame.”
The summit is also reportedly expected to see the launch of a green alternative initially pushed by Biden to rival China’s Belt & Road Initiative, with an aim to support sustainable development in developing countries.
Several guest countries have also been invited to join the summit, including Australia, which will use the occasion to seek support in its escalating trade disputes with China. On Wednesday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for G7 nations to endorse reform of the World Trade Organization to address the growing use of “economic coercion.”
The emerging alliance is likely to further antagonize Beijing. On Thursday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry hit out at Biden’s plan to rally allies on China, accusing it of “fanning confrontation.”
“Ganging up, pursuing bloc politics and forming small cliques are unpopular and doomed to fail. We hope relevant countries will discard ideological bias and look at China in an objective and rational light,” said ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin at a news briefing.
But at the same time, there is also a growing view in China that the G7 is a remnant of the past, and its influence along with that of its participating nations is in decline. This opinion, which has been vehemently promoted by Chinese state media, has been bolstered by China’s apparent post-pandemic economic recovery.
Nor is the fact that it is the G7 reacting to China, rather than China reacting to the G7, lost on observers in Beijing.
“(The G7’s) influence and power are no longer worth looking forward to. The fundamental reason is that the world’s economic and political center of gravity has shifted eastward,” said an op-ed published Thursday in the state-run Global Times asserting China is now setting the global agenda.
And while the G7 Nations may be shifting towards something approaching a united front in certain areas, it remains to be seen whether countries will be willing to risk damaging bilateral relations with Beijing.
Chinese observers cited by the Global Times appear confident that G7 Countries “fundamental divergences” on how to deal with China will “hinder them from making any substantial moves.”
Indeed, as the world begins to recover from the pandemic, many Western countries remain reliant as ever on the Chinese market and investments. Beijing, on the other hand, is not shying from leveraging that reliance.
The day before the G7 Summit kicked off, China passed a law to counter foreign sanctions, a symbolic gesture to Western Nations that their countermeasures be it over the issues of Hong Kong, Xinjiang, trade or technology will be met with strong retaliation.