The content of the Hiroshima G7 summit (May 19-23) of leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized countries has attracted much global media attention for its main focus which requires Beijing to abide by the “international rules-based order” and stop “use of economic coercion” around the world. China, on the other hand, as was expected based on Beijing’s strong disapproving reactions to last month’s G7 foreign ministers’ meeting in Nagano and the grouping’s finance minister’s meeting in Niigata this past week, condemned the U.S. attempt to “coerce” the other six economic powers into “scapegoating China for their own problems.” Likewise, the Chinese reaction to the just concluded Hiroshima G7 summit was no different.
Decades ago, a Chinese foreign affairs analyst, frustrated by decade-long negotiations on whether or not to admit China into the organization, had described the WTO as a “World Talking Organization.” Two years ago, reacting strongly to the “China challenge” agenda and the content to “counter Chinese economic coercion” at the London G7 foreign ministers meeting – the first G7 event held offline since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, China’s state-controlled media unleashed counter-offensive propaganda and called the G7 London meet a “tireless China Symposium.”
What’s on the Agenda?
Now, following the three-day 49th G7 leaders’ summit in Hiroshima, both the media and analysts have strongly reacted to and scornfully dismissed the “anti-China” agenda of the meeting of the world’s seven industrialized democracies. The G7 foreign ministers in their first in-person London meeting in two years in May 2021 had ignored the burning issues at the time – the severity of the prevailing epidemic situation and placed the “China challenge” at the top of the agenda. Likewise, as several Chinese commentators are pointing out, at the weekend Hiroshima summit, the seven leaders were shoring up the top agenda of the “unity and consistency” of all the member-states on the so-called “actions China is taking on the situation in the Asia-Pacific” and not on their own economic problems, respectively.
However, just like the policymakers and top Chinese diplomats, the country’s large number of strategic affairs experts and scholars too have been less bothered about U.S. efforts to forge G7 unity on balancing China and instead more focused on rifts within and outside of the seven member-states. Undeterred by the U.S.-Japan joint efforts to bring about a G7 “Asia-Pacific shift” as the new feature at the Hiroshima summit, experts in China believe that the U.S. attempts to force Europe to tie its security concerns to the Asia-Pacific region may prove to be counter-productive for the Western allies.
Just a day after the top diplomats from the G7 vowed to bring unity against “Chinese assertiveness” as they met for the G7 foreign ministers meeting in Nagano a month ago, a Chinese analyst in a signed commentary observed: “Putting China’s internal Taiwan question on the main agenda, along with the Ukraine crisis, Korean Peninsula-related issues, as well as engagement with the “Global South” nations, all this will not make it easier for the US to mend the rifts in the West, especially against a backdrop of growing calls for strategic autonomy in Europe.” [Emphasis added]
The Chinese Strategy
It is pertinent to point out, the term “strategic autonomy” has come to form the core of China’s evolving new strategy to exploit differences both within the EU and NATO in order to thwart the U.S. aka Biden’s efforts to rally all U.S. allies, including new or potential Indo-Pacific non-NATO allies. Remember, Beijing has been closely monitoring the presence of representatives from Japan and South Korea at the NATO leader’s summit last June in Madrid. Critics in Beijing and elsewhere in Asia called the NATO move aimed at splitting the region into hostile blocs. Dubbing the Japanese, and South Korean attendance at the NATO summit as not only targeting China but “bringing the Cold War to the Indo-Pacific,” a former senior colonel and influential voice in Beijing’s strategic affairs circles, Zhou Bo, told Time magazine: “NATO is headed by the United States. Therefore, if the US concludes China is a more serious threat than Russia, then, of course, it will just make use of NATO.”
While it is indeed true the Japanese government under Prime Minister Kishida’s leadership has taken Beijing by surprise with a series of moves to “outreach” to the U.S. in quick succession – moves such as raising defense spending to 2% of GDP in line with NATO targets, declaring at the last year’s Shangri-La Dialogue that “Ukraine maybe East Asia tomorrow,” and Kishida moving faster than (late) Shinzo Abe to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution, etc. Beijing’s geostrategic troubles in East Asia have suddenly increased manifold with the new South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s “revolutionary” rapprochement between Seoul and Tokyo.
While the success of the U.S. strategy to forge security alliances among its traditional allies in the Asia-Pacific such as Japan and South Korea has been worrisome for Beijing, there is ample opportunity for Beijing to wedge differences between the U.S. and its Western allies. In Western Europe, as against the U.S. foreign policy goal to rally allies in limiting economic relationship and trade reliance with China, there are clearly visible rifts among G7 member-states over reducing dependence on China. Major European economic powers, Germany and France for example, are not sure if even a switch away from “de-coupling” to “de-risking” will be without risking their own economic decline.
In a recent article in the Chinese online version of the Wall Street Journal, the authors Andrew Duehren and Greg Ip cited the IMF and warned U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen not to ignore the negative consequences of demanding that the Western allies toe the U.S. line of cutting off economic relations with Beijing. “Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has called for the U.S. to ‘friendshore’ and rely more closely on its allies for trade, but some allies have raised concerns about the Biden administration’s approach to reducing ties with China,” Duehern and Ip wrote as the top diplomats from the G7 states gathered in Nagano, Japan a month ago.
Within the G7
Finally, astute policymakers in Beijing are keeping tabs on the goings on within the G7 countries. They are also quite aware of the “shockwaves” in some parts of Western Europe and in the U.S. caused by the French President’s “treason” during a recent China visit. They are equally familiar with the “strategic dilemma” China’s immediate hostile neighbor India is facing over whether to completely go over to the U.S. side to “checkmate” Beijing. Especially when it comes to either the G7 European member-states or the major European powers in both the EU and NATO, respectively, it is not without reason that Beijing is not counting its chickens before hatching.
A recent report in Politico claimed, despite all-out U.S. efforts to charm and cajole Europe into linking arms to confront China, Europe is looking out for other possibilities and priorities. Not impressed with Washington’s “twin” offers recently, i.e. urgent warnings about dependence on Beijing and pledges to smooth over trade disputes between the U.S. and EU, Ursula von der Leyen, the EU president – a known China hawk – has been reiterating that the EU will hold on to a policy of “de-risk” but not “de-couple” from China.
As Beijing continues to “shut out” the White House, or adamantly and defiantly pursue what some in Washington say is Beijing’s “diplomatic freeze” tactics, since the U.S. shot down China’s “spy balloon” in February, Beijing has been overtly telling G7 leaders – minus of course Biden and Kishida – the U.S. has hijacked G7 by “turning the multilateral platform into a tool of maintaining (the U.S.) hegemony.” Beijing feels its strategy of wedging cracks within the group is bearing fruits as the G7 finance ministers meeting this past week – a closed-door gathering to finalize the summit communique –failed to list “China as an official agenda topic.”
However, experts in China have ruled out the industrialized democracies’ group will correct it’s hyping of China-related topics and warned that the upcoming G7 summit still may scapegoat China for their own problems. Some in Beijing are even demanding that G7 is in gross violation of the UN Charter, therefore the bloc must be abandoned.