What the G-7 Summit in Cornwall Means for Asia

Recent Features

Features | Diplomacy | East Asia

What the G-7 Summit in Cornwall Means for Asia

Besides seeing a stronger stance emerge on China, the summit had implications for the North Korea issue as well as Japan-South Korea relations.

What the G-7 Summit in Cornwall Means for Asia

Leaders of the G7 pose for a group photo on overlooking the beach at the Carbis Bay Hotel in Carbis Bay, St. Ives, Cornwall, England, Friday, June 11, 2021. Leaders from left, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, European Council President Charles Michel, U.S. President Joe Biden, Japan’s Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi, French President Emmanuel Macron, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Credit: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool

Joe Biden set clear goals for his first trip abroad as U.S. president: He promised to use his week-long trip to Europe to strengthen alliances and “make it clear to Putin and to China that Europe and the U.S. are tight.”

His meetings began in the United Kingdom with friendly talks with his British hosts, as well as some colorful photo sessions with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his new wife Carrie. Johnson said that the U.K. and the U.S. have an “indestructible relationship.”

The government invited all the senior members of the British royal family to greet their international guests in Cornwall, including Prince Charles, the Duke and Duchess of Wessex, and the Queen.

Then, in glorious sunshine beside Carbis Bay on the English Southern coast, Biden basked in the welcome of the leaders of the G-7 countries, which represent the world’s most stable, prosperous, and liberal democracies. The president seized the opportunity to reassert U.S. leadership in the democratic world and to promote transatlantic cooperation.

Biden said: “America is back in the business of leading the world alongside nations which share our mostly deeply held values. I think we’ve made progress in reestablishing credibility among our closest friends.”

Several other leaders expressed their feelings toward Biden in warm body language – especially French President Emmanuel Macron, who threw his arms around him – suggesting relief that the United States has returned to the diplomatic fold after Donald Trump’s confrontational and inward-looking presidency.

The U.K. also invited several other nations to attend the G-7 summit as observers, including fellow democracies hailing from the Indo-Pacific region. The leaders of Australia, South Africa, and South Korea came to Cornwall, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi joining by video link due to the COVID-19 emergency in India.

There was a great deal in the summit’s discussions and in its final communique that was pertinent to Asia. Particularly significant was the announcement of a global infrastructure plan, to give developing countries an alternative to doing business with China through its Belt and Road Initiative. The G-7 will offer financing for infrastructure, from railways to wind farms.

Johnson said, “We have a responsibility to help developing countries reap the benefits of green growth, through a fair and transparent system.” He pledged to “turbocharge” a shift toward renewable energy, powered by advanced technology.

This ambition aligns closely with the policies of the governments of South Korea and Japan, who hope their multinational corporations will benefit from a surge in green investment.

Notably, South Korea’s presidential office revealed that President Moon Jae-in had a brief conversation with Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide in Cornwall. The two leaders said they were glad to see each other.

It was the first time they had exchanged words in person since Suga took office last September. The two Northeast Asian neighbors have seen their relationship ice over in the past three years, following disagreements over historical issues dating to Japan’s colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula. The Moon-Suga meeting, however, followed a recent court ruling in Seoul that restricts plaintiffs from suing Japanese corporations in relation to historic allegations of forced labor and exploitation, which raised some hopes for a resolution to the current standoff.

There was a much more substantive conversation between Suga and Macron, who agreed on closer cooperation in security, technology, and on North Korea, according to NHK. During the meeting, Suga welcomed France’s stronger engagement in the Indo-Pacific region, including deployment of its navy.

North Korea was also one of the topics covered in a telephone call from Cornwall by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the top Chinese diplomat, Yang Jiechi.

The State Department said the two “discussed the United States’ comprehensive DPRK policy review, focusing on the need for the United States and the PRC to work together for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Blinken and South Korea’s Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong also held a meeting in Cornwall, in which they “reaffirmed commitment to close cooperation between and among the United States, the Republic of Korea, and Japan on a broad range of issues” according to the State Department.

Blinken also used his call to Yang to speak bluntly on a range of concerns. He repeated Washington’s accusation that the Chinese government is committing “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity” in Xinjiang and asked China to cease its pressure campaign against Taiwan and peacefully resolve cross-strait issues.

In response, Yang urged the United States to respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, not to interfere in China’s internal affairs under any pretext, and not to damage China’s core interests in any way.

A spokesperson from the Chinese Embassy in the U.K. dismissed the event in Cornwall as “pseudo-multilateralism serving the interests of a small clique or political bloc.”

There was a further challenge to China when the G-7 leaders were joined by Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO). He seemed to endorse U.S. and Australian demands for further investigation into claims that the virus that causes COVID-19 may have emerged from a laboratory in Wuhan.

Referring to the millions around the world who have died, Tedros said: “This is very tragic and I think the respect these people deserve is knowing what the origin of this virus is, so we can prevent it from happening again.”

He urged the leaders at the meeting to ensure that 70 percent of the global population is vaccinated by the time of the G-7’s next summit in Germany next year. Japan’s Suga is leading the drive to persuade wealthy countries to fund the COVAX vaccine program, administered by the WHO, in part to counterbalance China’s vaccine diplomacy.

The final communique called on China “to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang” and pressed for a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong.

Diplomatic sources say the draft wording would have been more strongly critical of China if the United States had prevailed, but was slightly watered down on the suggestion of France, Germany, Italy, and Japan.

Speaking to Fox News Sunday, Blinken said that last time the G-7 met in 2018, there was no mention of China in its summing up document.

Blinken said the meeting in Cornwall has demonstrated that democracies “can come together and deliver for people in real ways” and he emphasized the G-7’s promise to “build back better for the world.”

Following his appearance at the G-7 summit, Biden joined the Queen for a state banquet at Windsor Castle. Afterwards, he and Blinken headed to the EU-U.S. and NATO summits in Brussels before a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva.