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OP-ED: Is the G7 an ageing rock band?

  • Published at 11:29 pm June 15th, 2021
g7 summit 2021
The G7 Summit 2021 at Cornwall, UK REUTERS

Its best days are behind it and a post-Trump coming out party felt rather contrived

On his first foreign trip, US President Joe Biden’s mission was to convince us that “America is back” and the isolationism of the Trump presidency was just a bad dream.

It was unfortunate then that Vice President Kamala Harris, on her own foreign excursion, was telling Guatemala’s poor: “Do not come to the United States.” To which Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez retorted: “The US spent decades contributing to regime change and destabilization in Latin America. We can’t help set someone’s house on fire and then blame them for fleeing.”

The G7 get-together in Cornwall was President Joe Biden’s platform to confirm that America was rejoining the “civilized world” and rallying democracies against autocracies.

The US and the UK resuscitated the “Atlantic Charter,” hailing back to the days of Winston Churchill and that “special relationship.” It was literally a throwback to days long gone. 

In the seventies, the G7 was the real thing. It accounted for 70% of the world economic output. 

The oil price explosion and high inflation dented the post war order but the West was way ahead of the rest, by far the richest and most powerful. China then was very poor, and literally disconnected from the capitalist global trading system. 

Today, the G7 only makes 30% of total output. China, in PPP terms, has grown to par with the US. The Global South, including China (still a developing country, don’t forget) produces two thirds of annual GDP. So, logically, China should be part of the G7. So should Russia (among the top states on PPP terms). They are banned from the club, which pompously declares its membership is only for liberal democracies, open societies, and those dedicated to defending a global order based on transparency and rules.

Vaccine games

In its 70 paragraph closing declaration, the G7 made sure we knew how generous they were by pledging up to a billion vaccines. This offer comes after they had hoarded 3 billion vaccines for themselves. The Global South gets fed only after the rich states have had their fill, with much more to spare.

 What is really at stake is the tattered reputation of the West because China has delivered PPE and vaccines in vast quantities. When it comes to pledges made at summits, always carry a pinch of salt with you. The West promised $100 billion worth of funds every single year to poor countries to prepare against climate change. Most of it never arrived.

 ‘We are better and nicer than China’ 

Paragraphs 49 and 60 referred specifically to China but the document was really about countering China across the globe. London and Washington wanted a more blood curling statement to beat China with. Berlin, Paris, and Rome resisted. Chinese media has noted this divergence and will be one to watch after the German elections this year and the French one next year. The clash over Brexit didn’t help; Boris thought a rules-based order meant Britain could casually ignore written legal treaties.

Juxtaposed with the privileged Western club setting of its own rules and “values,” China meanwhile declared its commitment to work within the framework of the United Nations. That resonates with the middle classes of the South.

 Biden and Johnson want to convince us that their Build-Back-Better offer is so much better than China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Hang on. Do you remember the Blue Dot Initiative? That was an idea full of holes, more a PowerPoint slide than actual bricks and cement infrastructure. The B-B-B, while essentially a rehash of that, will probably get to actually construct some bridges this time.

 It will be a conduit for Western multinationals to earn profits on the back of Western Bank debt. The G7 communique assures us their bridges will be built on their democratic values, free of corruption and with no chance of poorer countries becoming indebted. 

With a straight face, Boris and Co were effectively saying that Chinese projects were corrupt and that Western multinationals had somehow won all those projects for decades without money somehow appearing in Swiss bank accounts or perhaps Panama. Didn’t you know there was no debt problem anywhere before China came along? It’s a 1970’s Monty Python comedy sketch.

The G7 will doggedly try to frame the conversation as one where Western democracies are trying to make the world safer, greener, and open against the bad guys -- China and Russia. Well, most developing countries will not “unfriend” China (nor Russia) on the back of that flimsy premise.

The G7 has become an anachronism, almost as much as the Commonwealth. Both soon to be as “dead as a parrot”.

Farid Erkizia Bakht is a political analyst. @liquid_borders.

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