A very special G7 summit
The G7 summit number 47 starts today in the UK. Although the British Prime Minister will be the host, the biggest star will be Joe Biden, who chose the occasion to make his first trip abroad. He will spend a long week in Europe, thus showing that the European continent remains an important stage for diplomacy and the strengthening of American foreign alliances.
This has everything to be an outstanding summit. The statements made in the last few days confirm the concerns that I have already expressed here in this newspaper a month ago, at the time of the preparatory meeting of the foreign ministers. Biden's intention seems to be to transform the G7 into what the UN Security Council cannot be: a platform for understanding between the great liberal democracies, able to give a coordinated response to universal issues and to face up to China's global ambitions and the threats posed by Russia. In essence, it is about seeking to safeguard American hegemony, not in an isolated way as Donald Trump advocated, but with the USA's most solid allies.
To make this alliance more effective, they associate South Africa, Australia, South Korea, and India to the group. This addition is strange and incomplete. It leaves out many important states. It is true that this is not the time for vast face-to-face meetings. It is also true that the decision on who comes to sit at the table is up to the host. But the other members would also have a say in the matter. Nobody insisted that Mexico, Brazil, or others be invited. The reading that can be made leaves little doubt: Latin America is in crisis and counts for little more than nothing on the international stage. It is, in any case, in the North American sphere of influence. It would not need to be heard.
Africa was represented at previous summits by three or four countries. This time it was almost left out. The presence of Cyril Ramaphosa, the South African president, can be seen as the British lending a hand to maintaining stability in South Africa in order to reassure certain sections of its population. The rest of the continent is of lesser concern. Incidentally, the UK was the only G7 country that decided to cut its cooperation budget on the pretext of the pandemic. The cut is £4 billion. It will have a considerable negative impact at a time when the least developed countries need exceptional support.
Regarding the Middle East, nobody wants to hear anything about Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the general in charge in Egypt, let alone about Recep Erdoğan or Mohammed bin Salman. From the perspective of the G7, the Middle East is losing strategic relevance. On the other hand, Iran has moved into China's orbit - on 27 March, a mutual cooperation agreement for the next 25 years was signed, thus opening a way out for the Iranians, who have become freer from American and Western sanctions.
In Asia, the big bet is centred on India. It is, however, a complex and risky gamble. Narendra Modi is a radical Hindu nationalist who is dragging the world's largest democracy into an intense civil crisis. He is also a protectionist, unwilling to open the economy to foreigners. He does, however, offer one illusion: that he could become an important counterweight to China.
China is, moreover, the main concern that Biden has in his baggage. He wants to turn the G7 into a dam against Chinese expansionism. We will see if he succeeds, apart from the mention in the final communiqué. As for Boris Johnson, the banner that would allow him to present the meeting as a success would be a resounding declaration of support for vaccination campaigns in the poorest countries, so as to have 60% of these populations vaccinated by the end of 2022. If there is a commitment to that, then this G7 will have been useful. Leaders will be able to sing victory, even though December 2022 will mean another year and a half of uncertainties and restrictions. In that perspective, helping others as quickly as possible is in the vital interests of us all, starting with the G7.
(Automatic translation of the opinion piece I published today in the Diário de Notícias, the old and prestigious Lisbon newspaper)