The 2021 G7 summit took place in the United Kingdom (UK) at Carbis Bay in Cornwall. Since the 1970s, the G7 has met each year. The G7 is an informal bloc of industrialised democracies consisting of the United States (US), Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom (UK). The group meets annually to discuss global economic issues, health emergencies, international security, energy policy, climate crisis, and the like.
But with the changing world order transitioning from a unipolar world to a multipolar one, the rise of China as an economic powerhouse alongside countries of the developing world like India and Brazil, and even Russia; many have questioned the relevance of the G7 today.
One of the outcomes of the recently concluded G7 2021 summit was the launch of the group’s major global infrastructure program intended to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The G7 leaders agreed to launch a global infrastructure initiative called Build Back Better World (B3W).
US President Joe Biden is championing a US$40 trillion global infrastructure plan, the B3W, as an extension of his domestic Build Back Better program and alternative to China’s BRI. With the B3W, the G7 aims to provide high-quality financing for infrastructure such as railways in Africa and wind farms in Asia to propel global green economic growth to rival China’s BRI.
Just like former US President Donald Trump’s “Indo-Pacific Strategy” (IPS), the B3W aims to contain the rise of China and to counter Beijing’s growing economic and political influence across the world facilitated by the BRI.
It can be recalled that similarly, in an attempt to counter China’s BRI, the US offered an alternative proposal to beneficiary states of the BRI and pushed forward its “Indo-Pacific Strategy” (IPS) in November 2017 and rejuvenated the “QUAD” or also known as the “Quadrilateral Security Dialogue” – an informal strategic dialogue that is maintained by talks between member countries the US, Japan, Australia, and India.
Analogous to the B3W, the IPS offered alternative plans with promising financial commitment to developing countries to halt the progress of China’s BRI. Though to some extent, the B3W, on the whole, is quite palatable as most US allies and strategic partners have nowhere else to go to balance China’s growing economic power and influence across the globe. Just like the IPS, the huge question is how will the B3W be funded and whether members of the G7 are indeed financially committed to this plan.
It can be noted that one of the challenges faced by Trump’s IPS was a lack of financial commitment on the part of his administration, which resulted in the slow progress of the implementation of the strategy.
Also, similar to the IPS in which there were overt disputes between the US and its partners – the US wanting to emphasise and push forward the security element of the strategy to counter the growing strength of China’s military capacity – whereas Japan, Australia, India, and ASEAN prefer to implement the economic cooperation side. By the same token, members of the G7 are indeed divided on how react towards China.
During the summit, leaders of the G7 brawled and wriggled on the issue of China and the right approach between intemperate relations and competition with China and indispensable cooperative coexistence.
Obviously, European leaders are very much aware of the reality that cordial and pragmatic relations with China are essential to the economic prospects of European countries like Germany, France, and Italy. Thus, the leaders of these countries are not agreeable that the grouping be the locus of an anti-China crusade.
This just signifies that the G7 is divided on the China issue and that the US is not as invincible and as indomitable as it was in the past where it could get its way easily. Hence, US control and influence over its so-called allies is indeed waning.
Moreover, even if the B3W gains sufficient funding, it will still have difficulty persuading the developing world to leave the BRI in exchange for it because of the probable strings attached or conditions that come with the B3W concerning human rights, democracy, and the like. Also, it seems that the B3W lacks a coherent strategy, and is akin to arbitrary whim and propulsion to contain and counter China.
Whereas, the BRI is better coordinated and funded with a coherent endeavour to integrate multiple continents commercially through infrastructure. It focuses on policy coordination, connectivity of infrastructure, unimpeded trade, financial integration, and closer people-to-people ties. China’s multi-trillion-dollar BRI global infrastructure initiative has been in progress since 2013.
The BRI focuses on Asia, Europe, and Africa, and is open to all partners. It is not an exclusive league or a “China club”. It neither makes a distinction nor discriminates against countries by ideology nor plays the zero-sum game. Under the BRI, countries are not forced to choose sides between Washington and Beijing. Something that developing countries see as refreshing and reassuring.
To note, by the end of March 2019, the Chinese government had signed 173 cooperation agreements with 125 countries and 29 international organisations. The BRI has expanded from Asia and Europe to include new participants in Africa, Latin America, and the South Pacific. Indeed, the BRI is a game-changer for the developing world.
The recently concluded G7 summit in Cornwall was an exchange of pleasantries, nice words, and promises. Nevertheless, the real test of the relevance and endurance of this grouping is if indeed it will have follow-through and deliver sufficiently and satisfactorily on its promises. Whether the B3W will be realised or not, and whether it can be sustained by the G7 remains to be seen.
Source: The ASEAN Post