DR JIMMY HARMON

It is with great interest that I followed the last G-7 summit. I studied World Affairs (since c.1960) at subsidiary level for my HSC/Advanced Level in the late 1980s. G-7 brought back to me the keys given by my secondary school teachers namely Dr Sateeanund Peerthum and Mr Kallee (my tribute to them!). This 47th meeting of the G-7 has unravelled the emergence of a new world order and what Michel Foucher, Director of Studies at IHEDN (the Institute for Advanced Studies in National Defence) in Paris, and Professor of Applied Geopolitics at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, refers to as ‘the world’s new geography’ or ‘la planète en chantier’ in his book La bataille des cartes: Analyse critique des visions du monde (2011). This article is an attempt at understanding how cards are being shuffled on the international arena.

From Oil Crisis of 1970s to COVID 19

The G-7 (Group of Seven) is an organisation of the world’s seven largest so-called advanced economies. They are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the United States. Russia joined in 1998, creating the G-8, but was ousted in 2014 from the group for aggressively annexing Crimea. Founded in 1975, these countries met for the first time to create a venue for the non-communist powers to address pressing economic concerns which included inflation and a recession sparked by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil embargo. The world was facing huge economic problems with the first oil shock and the collapse of the Bretton Woods fixed exchange rate system.

The leaders of the Group of Seven, met in Cornwall on 11-13 June 2021 for the 47th Summit. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, invited leaders from India (Narendra Modi), South Korea (Moon Jae-in), South Africa (Cyril Ramaphosa) and Australia (Scott Morrison). Ministers from G7 governments will meet throughout 2021 for discussions on health, climate change and the environment and international development. The Carbis Bay G-7 Summit statement released in a communiqué remarks that G-7 leaders are ‘determined to beat COVID-19 and build back better’. The Communiqué highlights the need to end the pandemic and prepare for the future; reinvigorate the economies of its member countries; secure their future security; protect our Planet; strengthen their global partnerships and make the world embrace their liberal and democratic values.

China

One of the important focal points of the G-7 statement was on China. The Statement calls on China ‘to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang and those rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law’ (para.49). The US President Joe Biden has asked China to behave in ‘responsible manner’ so that international norms could be ensured. The most significant action is the infrastructure plan unveiled by G-7 as an alternative to China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) project. The plan is named ‘Build Back Better World’ (B3W). It is worth 40 trillion dollars and is expected to be completed by 2035. B3W initiative would mobilise private sector capital to invest in climate, health, digital technology, gender equity and equality. In a bid to demarcate itself from Chinese infrastructure projects, G-7 states that B 3 W will be underpinned by ‘values-driven vision’ whereby projects are carried out in a transparent and financially, environmentally, and socially sustainable manner which will lead to beneficial outcomes for recipient countries and communities. Also, all projects will ensure ‘intensive collaboration’ by mobilising private sector capital and expertise, through a strengthened and more integrated approach across the public and private sector. At the same time, projects must meet ‘strong standards’ across environmental, social, financial, labour, governance and transparency by building on multilateral agreed standards on quality infrastructure such as the G20 Principles for Quality Infrastructure Investment. Will the G-7 be able to counter the Chinese BRI? China has already invested 3.7 trillion dollar in more than 2600 infrastructure projects between 15 and 65 countries.

Will all roads lead to China?

Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) was first announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013. It’s a global spanning plan with the purpose of strengthening trade, infrastructure and investment links between China and an estimated 65 other countries. BRI will be completed in 2049 coinciding with the centenary of the People’s Republic of China. Together, potentially participating countries account for more than 30 percent of global GDP, 62 percent of the world’s population and 75 percent of known energy reserves.

The ‘road’ actually refers to a maritime network of shipping lanes running from China through South East Asia, Africa and all the way to Europe. Some say BRI has the ambition to make all roads lead to China, just to rival with the Roman saying. The ‘belt’ on the other hand refers to overland routes stretching through Central Asia to Europe. The most visible part of the Belt and Road so far has been infrastructure in Africa. In Kenya, China built a $3.2 billion railway, connecting the port city of Mombasa to the country’s capital Nairobi. It now takes just four and a half hours to get between the two cities. BRI is not only infrastructure but is looked upon as the Chinese strategy to have access to resources at source such iron, gold, ore and diamond. It has also established ‘economic corridors’ with Pakistan, Serbia, Uganda, Kenya and Malaysia. It is present at station ports of Gwadar (Pakistan), Obock Military base (Djibouti), Hambantona (Sri Lanka), Melaka (Malaysia). Increased criticisms are being levelled at the ‘debt trap diplomacy’ of BRI making African countries saddled with predatory loans. But at the same time BRI brings another model of cooperation.

Implications

With its infrastructure projects, China offers a completely different model as it connects African cities. Chinese companies are the lowest bidders and lead to rapid implementation. However, cheap Chinese products make difficult the development of domestic industries. Cases of racial prejudices against African students in China are quite frequent and do not help for mutual understanding.  Historically, China has prioritized strong diplomatic relations and political ties with African states with an ideological aspiration anchored on the solidarity among the Third World countries. However, since 2001, China’s pursuit in the continent has rapidly expanded into the economic arena, focusing on Africa’s rich natural resources to fuel China’s domestic economic growth. In 2007, President Hu Jintao visited eight African countries and deepened friendship with the African continent. On February 16, 2009, Chinese President Hu Jintao arrived in Port Louis for a state visit to Mauritius, the last leg of his journey of friendship and cooperation to five Asian and African countries. In 2018, the Chinese President Xi Jinping set off on a five-country nation visit seeking to strengthen ties. On 27th-29th July, the President concluded the tour with a stopover in Mauritius before returning to China. So far, 46 African countries and the African Union (AU) have signed documents on cooperation under the framework of the BRI with China. China and Africa are continuing advancing the implementation of the outcomes of the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) held in 2018. At the G-7 Summit, Angela Merkel states that with Biden in office there is a return to normal as former President Trump was more in the post-1945 order with its America-first policy, weaponization of trade issues and disregard of multilateralism. The position of France is not as critical as the US towards China. President Macron stated that France is not hostile to China. As far as Japan is concerned, it feels certainly threatened by the multifaceted expansion of China. It is for this reason that it strengthens its alliance with the US and India (to deter China) which are the best options to ensure its strategic autonomy. In its 2020 Policy Analysis Report, the Center for Asian studies states that as a politically stable, democratic country that consistently defends and promotes multilateralism, liberal norms and market economy, Japan has good assets to act as a proactive stakeholder of a rules-based world order.

Hence, over the last decades, large emerging economies (Brazil, China, India, South Africa and Mexico) have begun to play increasingly significant and active roles in the global arena. The G-7 summit Year 2021 has put the cursor on China. The war of infrastructure through BRI (China) and B3W (G-7) might lead to a recalibration of power through a process of skilful economic diplomacy without most probably any avowed allegiance of recipient countries.

References

Carbis Bay G 7 Summit Communiqué. Statement and releases. http:www.whitehouse.gov

Céline Pajon, Japan in the 2019 G-20 and G-7 summits Global: A key partner for Europe ? Global Policy, May 2020

Pauline Peretz, A world out of key, An interview with Michel Foucher – http: www. Books & Ideas.net

The Centre for International Governance Innovation, Reaching out to BRISCAM: Economic Diplomacy and the Heiligendamm Process Conference Report, 5-7 March 2008.