Review: G7 summit set stage for post-Covid Western order

(Via AFP)

When the G7 summit met for the first time in 2 years in June on the Cornwall coast, there was a sense of cautious optimism. All eyes of course were set on President Biden. This was against the backdrop of awkward tensions between the US President alongside the EU with the host Prime Minister. It became evident that The United Kingdom now holds a very uncomfortable and strained position between The European Union and The United States.

In a sense, this G7 was a fresh start. The West is emerging into a very new era of international relations and public policy, there is no longer a leadership vacuum which existed during Trumps reign. Although there were the aforementioned gripes between Britain and the rest of the G7, there was also a strong sense of common purpose. The agenda for the next five years has been set.

Firstly, as the West begins to emerge from the darkness of Covid-19, there was an emphasis on internal and external recovery. The sense of building back better, used by both Boris Johnson and Joe Biden in their recent successful electoral campaigns, is the accepted orthodoxy across the G7. The consensus is that the West must avoid austerity at all costs.

It was made expressly clear that autocratic rule is now an existential threat to allied democratic nations. Nations like China, Russia and Turkey will be held to account. China in particular is now accurately seen as an emerging superpower which threatens to unseat The United States and Europe from three decades of military and economic hegemony. Major concerns were subsequently expressed around the treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang.

China’s initial opaque response to Covid-19 and its origins also came under major scrutiny. Originally disregarded by many in the public health world, suggestions that a lab in Wuhan may have been responsible for the emergence of Covid-19 have grown once again. China will of course wish that this was an issue which would silently be forgotten.

The status quo of China supplying the bulk of the worlds cheap labour and material goods was a comfortable one until former President Trump made it one of the key issues of his Presidency. But Covid-19 has only accelerated Chinese influence and it is no longer a sleeping giant which can be ignored.

President Biden also took a particularly hard-line stance on Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Biden was largely responsible for Ukraine in the Obama administration; he is no stranger to Putin and is a staunch supporter of Ukrainian sovereignty.

The G7 re-committed to supporting the territorial integrity of Ukraine, no doubt this gave welcome reassurance to Kiev. This was ahead of Biden’s Monday meeting with Putin in Geneva. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline has been of major concern to Biden.

The day before, Biden agreed with Putin’s assessment that relations were at a historic low point between The United States and Russia. The summit went broadly as expected with no major breakthroughs, the only notable action being the return of each counties ambassadors back to their respective posts.

Climate Change was also on the agenda, although commitments may have disappointed Western climate activists. They pledged to raise $100 billion a year to help developing nations cut emissions and pursue green energy alternatives.

Biden then attended the NATO summit, in which Biden re-committed America to the post-war alliance as expected. His decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan was broadly welcomed. The whole event had an atmosphere of forgiveness as Biden withdrew the inflammatory attitudes of his predecessor from the United States role in the alliance.

Two clear themes emerged during Biden’s European trip. Firstly it is that America is once again willing to assume its traditional role at the head of the post-war order. The second and most important is that there is a real perception of China as a very significant threat to Western power and stability.

It would not be outlandish to predict that we are heading for a new cold war in which the core opposing ideologies are liberal democracy and authoritarianism. Only it will likely be very different to the tensions between the West and The Soviet Union. The West is highly reliant on China for trade, therefore it is unlikely that hostilities will reach the heights of the cold war.

It does pose one major question to the EU and USA; how do we oppose the authoritarian capitalist model of the Chinese state when we are so reliant on them for so many aspects of modern life? That is the defining foreign policy challenge of our time.

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