The Group of Seven western democracies aims to court new allies to counter challenges from China and Russia without holding Beijing down and while pursuing more stable ties with the Kremlin, two of its top diplomats said on Monday.
Ahead of the first in-person G7 foreign ministers meeting since 2019, U.S. President Joe Biden’s secretary of state, Antony Blinken, sought to foster a message of multilateralism after four years of Twitter-diplomacy under Donald Trump variously shocked, bewildered and alarmed many Western allies.
Founded in 1975 as a forum for the West’s richest nations to discuss crises such as the OPEC oil embargo, the G7 this week is discussing China and Russia as well as battling the COVID-19 pandemic and the spread of climate change.
“It is not our purpose to try to contain China or to hold China down,” Blinken told reporters at a news conference alongside British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.
He said the West would defend “the international rules based order” from subversive attempts by any country, including China.
China’s spectacular economic and military rise over the past 40 years is seen as being among the most significant geopolitical events of recent times, alongside the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union which ended the Cold War.
The diplomats were keen to let the world know the West will assert itself. Raab spoke of building alliances rather than severing them.
“I do see the increasing demand and need for agile clusters of like-minded countries that share the same values and want to protect the multilateral system,” Raab said. “We can see a shift towards that pattern of clusters of like-minded countries agile enough to work together.”
Even without its broader alliance, the G7 still packs a punch: combined it is much bigger than China both economically and militarily.
Longer term, there are deep concerns in both Washington and European capitals about how the West should act towards both Beijing and Moscow.
Blinken said the United States would prefer more stable ties with Russia but that much depended on how Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to act, especially in theatres such as Ukraine which Blinken will visit later this week.
“We have reaffirmed our unwavering support for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” Blinken said.
“We’re not looking to escalate: we would prefer to have a more stable, more predictable relationship. And if Russia moves in that direction, so will we.”
Raab said on Sunday the G7 would look at a proposal to build a rapid response mechanism to counter Russian disinformation, and, in a reference to China, spoke of the need to stand up for open markets and democracy.
In addition to the G7 members Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States, Britain has also invited ministers from Australia, India, South Africa and South Korea.
The ministers will lay the groundwork for Biden’s first scheduled trip abroad since taking office: a G7 summit in Britain next month.