The summit and the strategy

While summit documents cannot be taken at face value on specific commitments, they nevertheless do have a utility for they show the thought processes of the participating countries

The just concluded first visit of US president Joe Biden to Europe shows that the Trans-Atlantic Alliance is returning to its pre-Trump rhythms. The atmosphere of the G7 meeting was calm without the rancour and public recriminations that Trump injected through his remarks on individual leaders; in 2018 he called Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau weak and very dishonest. Equally importantly, there were no US demands that its allies must bear their fair share of the resources spent on security and defence. Biden, a quintessential representative of the traditional US establishment with enormous foreign policy experience both as senator and as vice-president, emphasised common values, objectives and commitments to face the challenges coming from an aggressive China, a nationalistic and firm Russia as well as the pressing issues arising out of the pandemic and climate change, among others.

This G7 meeting took place in Britain on June 11-13. All leaders of the group—Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada and the US—attended. Four guest countries were invited—India, South Korea, Australia and South Africa. Leaders of these countries also participated; prime minister Narendra Modi did so virtually. As is usual in such summits a number of declarations emerged; in this case a G7 communique consisting of twenty-five pages and seventy paragraphs. In addition, there were a declaration on Health, a compact on Nature, another compact on Research and finally a statement on Open societies. While the other documents were those of G7 members alone that on Open societies was on behalf of the group as well as the four guest countries.

Some observers may well question the real value of the effort that goes into the preparation of all these documents. And they would have a point. For, by themselves all the fine words, sentiments and commitments they contain are meaningless unless they are translated into action. As an example, this proposition can be illustrated by the scepticism that may be generated by the communique’s commitments on vaccinations to combat the Covid pandemic.

In the absence of the discovery of a recognised cure of Covid the primary means of combatting it is through vaccinations. The communique noted “Recognising that ending the pandemic in 2022 will require vaccinating at least 60% of the world population…” the leaders committed to “accelerate the roll out of safe and effective, accessible and affordable vaccines for the poorest countries…”. The precise number of doses they committed to share over the next year was 87 crores. Assuming that each person needs at least two doses of a vaccine for it to be effective— the current vaccines need two doses--- this means that these countries have actually committed for vaccinating about 44 crore persons. The current world population is about 760 crores. 60% percent of this number comes to 456 crores. The question that the G7 leaders have to ask themselves is if their commitment of providing 87 crore doses will be sufficient to meet their own target of vaccinations to ending the pandemic in 2022. This is despite the fact that many countries are relying on their own resources to vaccinate their own people but many countries will simply be unable to do so. Thus, it is one matter to state pious objectives and quite another to do the math to show that commitments will be sufficient to meet the target that a country or a group of countries has itself stated.

While summit documents cannot be taken at face value on specific commitments, they nevertheless do have a utility for they show the thought processes of the participating countries and the general direction their policies may move as well as their current and future priorities. This is important in itself for it reveals how global geo-politics and geo-economics may evolve. From this perspective the G7 communique is significant but not surprising in revealing its wariness of China. This is demonstrated by its disregard of Chinese sensitivities in a number of areas. These include the demand for a “timely, transparent, expert led and science based WHO convened Phase 2 Covid-19 origins study including, as recommended by the experts report in China”. The Chinese leadership has consistently desired to shift the focus away from the origin of the virus but it will find it increasingly difficult to do so especially with reports that it may have been developed in the Wuhan laboratory from where it escaped.

Noting Chinese trade policies, the G7 noted “we will continue to consult on collective approaches to challenging non-market policies and practices which undermine fair and transparent operation of the global economy”. This will not be easy for China now occupies a pivotal position in global manufacturing and trade. It does show intent but that will be insufficient to motivate multinational companies to take a hit on their operations and profits.

Where the G7 may find greater traction among themselves to confront China is on geo-political and human rights issues. These find mention in the communique. They relate to the rights of the Uighur Muslim populations and Chinese policies in the Indo-Pacific region generally and specifically in Hong Kong and towards Taiwan. It remains to be seen though how far would individual G7 countries be willing to take on China even on these matters in view of their economic interests.

The other country targeted by the G7 was Russia and in this context the Biden-Putin summit on June 16 was significant. The atmospherics were good but Putin will not relent on critical Russian national interests concerning Ukraine though he may have to be flexible on cyber security issues.

All in all, it would be a rewarding read for those interested in the contemporary global scene.

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