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Can India & G7’s Democratic Pledge Block China’s Illiberal Might?

China’s was the looming shadow over the meeting and its focus on the Indo-Pacific region, writes Manoj Joshi. 

Published
Opinion
4 min read
Image of G7 member countries (on chess board) and India & China’s flags (at the back) used for representational purposes.
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The great value of the recent Group of Seven (G7) meeting in Cornwall, UK which concluded on Sunday, 13 June, was that it took place in the circumstances that it did, and put across a picture of a rich and democratic world looking more united than it has done in the recent past.

This is important because of the disarray created by the presidency of Donald Trump which probably contributed to the G7’s signal failure to provide any kind of leadership to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

The meeting now is all the more important when it is clear that the G7 is facing off against the illiberal might of China, which has successfully combated the pandemic, and whose economy is already on the path of recovery, while a large part of the world, including India, are flailing.

It is in this context that we should read the lengthy joint statement at the end of the meeting on Sunday dealing with health, climate change, democracy and open societies, economic recovery, trade and future research and innovation.

G7’s Pledge to Fight COVID

The G7 comprises of the US, UK, Canada, Japan, Germany, France and Italy, as well as the EU. The UK, which is the host, had invited India, South Korea, Australia and South Africa to attend as guests. The leaders of all the countries, except India, were physically present at the meeting. Prime Minister Modi participated in its outreach sessions through video.

Heeding the call of activists and organisations, the G7 has promised to do more to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, and has pledged over 1 billion more vaccine doses for poorer countries over the next year.

Learning from the crisis, they have also agreed to establish new early warning systems and boost scientific support to enable vaccine development and treatments in a span of 100 rather than 300 days. In line with this, the communique pressed for a Phase 2 study by the WHO, on the origins of COVID-19 which should include China as per the experts group recommendation.

All Eyes On China

China’s was the looming shadow over the meeting and its focus on the Indo-Pacific region. Where countries like the US and Japan had earlier taken the lead, today we see them joined by Germany, UK and France in calling for the maintenance of “a free and open Indo-Pacific, which is inclusive and based on the rule of the law,” as the joint statement noted.

It added that the G7 “remain seriously concerned” about the situation in the East and South China seas, and “strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo and increase tensions.”

There was also an unprecedented reference to Taiwan which had been discussed by the G7 foreign ministers in their May meeting. Sunday’s summit communique said, “we underscore the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues.” The communique bluntly told China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms with respect to Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

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G7’s ‘Build Back Better World’ Initiative Is Also Targeted At China

China also figured in the economic front with the G7 offering a united front to declare that it will adopt “collective approaches” to take on China’s “non-market policies and practices which undermine the fair and transparent operation of the global economy. This is an important development which indicates that the US has been able to get the EU to fall in line with its hard-line strategy of dealing with China.

There can be little doubt that China is also the context of the new Build Back Better World (B3W) partnership announced by the G7. This is an infrastructure investment initiative based on “democratic values and norms” to promote “clean green growth” in developing countries.

Clearly, it seeks to target China’s ongoing Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), though there was no specific reference to China here. It is not clear, though, what kind of money the G7 would be willing to put up for the project.

Climate change and a “green recovery” was an important leg of the summit, with President Biden and Prime Minister Johnson strongly endorsing measures towards achieving net zero emissions by 2050 and increasing climate finance by 2025.

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G7’s Shared Belief In Democratic Values Reaffirmed — And PM Modi Being Its ‘Torchbearer’

Since the competition with China is also being framed as a contest between autocracy and democracy, it is not surprising that the communique also emphasised the overarching theme of shared values of the open societies that constitute the G7.

This was underscored by a separate outreach session on “open societies and economies“ whose lead speaker was Prime Minister Modi.

Later, the summit also adopted a statement that reaffirmed the shared belief in open societies, democratic values and multilateralism for the “responsible stewardship of our planet.” It made a ringing call for the upholding of rules and norms that promote human rights for all, “online and offline”, and opposition to any kind of discrimination. It gave a ringing endorsement to democracy, which it said included voting in free and fair elections as well as the promotion of social inclusion, equal opportunities for all, freedom of expression, the rule of law with “effective, independent and impartial judicial systems”.

It also criticised the threat to democracy from “rising authoritarianism, electoral interference… politically-motivated internet shutdowns.”

There is some irony in Prime Minister Modi’s remarks hailing India’s solidarity and unity with “open and democratic societies and economies” and on recalling that “democracy and freedom were part of India’s civilisational ethos,” given the erosion of democratic norms in the country under his watch.

But Modi had been billed as the lead speaker in the “Open Societies and Economies” session, and he had to say those things. Perhaps the G7 intended a message in inviting him to speak at the session.

(The writer is Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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