G7 foreign and development ministers are meeting in London this week to discuss vaccine distribution and sustainable development goals, and to “revitalize in-person diplomacy” following 18 long months of Zoom calls and Covid scares. It’s preparation for the main G7 summit, which will be held in southwest England between June 11 and 13.
Representatives of India, Australia, South Korea, South Africa, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have been invited to join their G7 counterparts from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the US, and the UK, in a bid to show that the UK, which holds the rotating presidency of the G7 this year, is serious about pivoting to the Indo-Pacific.
To kick things off yesterday (May 3), UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab met with US secretary of state Antony Blinken. At a joint press conference afterwards, they spoke about the need for “like-minded countries” to “protect fundamental freedoms, tackle disinformation, [and] hold human rights abusers to account.” In the same breath, Raab named China as an offender in these areas.
“It’s fair to say that [the UK and US] see eye-to-eye on the need to stand up for our values,” he added, “holding Beijing to the commitments that they have made…whilst at the same time finding constructive ways to work with China in a sensible and positive manner where that’s possible.”
It’s a testament to how much London and Washington have converged on this issue since the start of the pandemic, and since Donald Trump left office. Over the past 18 months, the UK has banned Chinese tech giant Huawei, sanctioned Chinese government officials for alleged human rights violations, and opened its borders to as many as 3 million Hong Kongers. The US, which has long been more hawkish on China than the UK, has welcomed and even encouraged the shift.
Meanwhile, Beijing views the G7 as little more than a modern-day reincarnation of the alliance of eight nations that invaded China in 1900 to suppress the Boxer Rebellion. The pro-government Global Times has published a spate of recent editorials calling the G7 “irrelevant” and accusing the US of using the forum to “recover [its] past glory.”
“It is not our purpose to try to contain China or to hold China down,” Blinken said.
The UK’s G7 invitation to India is also a sign that it wants the country to serve as a counter-balance to China in the Indo-Pacific. After UK prime minister Boris Johnson spoke virtually with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi today, they announced £1 billion ($1.39 billion) of new trade and investment, with a free-trade agreement still some way away.