Leaders of Group of Seven (G7) countries and the EU stand for a group photo during the G7 Summit in Cornwall, Britain, on June 11 (XINHUA)
On the surface, Joe Biden emerged as successful in securing consensus in both the Group of Seven (G7) and NATO on labeling China as a "systemic challenge" during his first tour of Europe. However, hiding beneath such "achievements," the U.S. alienated itself from the majority of countries still fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under U.S. leadership, the G7 Summit in Britain on June 11-13 seemed determined to make China a global media headline. The seven nations singled out the country and identified it as the biggest threat to the world simply because they disapprove of how China handles its internal affairs. Should they instead focus on the pandemic which has claimed millions of lives and jeopardized economies around the world, particularly the poorest countries?
The G7 pledged to donate 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to low-income countries by 2023, but it is a far cry from the expectations of the World Health Organization. The UN health body immediately warned that the amount would simply not suffice to outpace the spread of COVID-19 among poorer nations. The fact that China has already presented 350 million vaccine doses to more than 80 nations worldwide, mainly those with the most pressing need for them, has been intentionally ignored by the U.S.
UN Secretary General António Guterres shared the concern that the 1 billion promised doses would fall short of the actual global need and called on the G7 to act with logic and a sense of urgency. On the other hand, UN aid chief Mark Lowcock slammed the G7's vaccine proposal, referring to it as "small step, sporadic, charitable handouts" from rich countries, which failed to show the necessary urgency and would certainly not bring the pandemic to an end.
Rethinking needed for U.S.
The Biden administration now goes against its promises to reverse a "confrontational" China policy with a "cooperative" one. Accordingly, the world should be alarmed that it is far from fulfilling its promise to "lead by the power of example."
During the 2020 U.S. presidential election, what kind of China policy can best serve the interests of the American people was a major focus of debate. Donald Trump referred to COVID-19 as the "China virus" and pointed his finger at both the Chinese Government and people. Biden, however, said a "rational" policy toward China is needed. He spent much of his campaign
criticizing Trump's approaches for being too aggressive and promised to change tactics in dealing with China to engage in both competition and cooperation. Antony Blinken, the incumbent U.S. Secretary of State, once said a new "cold war" is not the right description of China-U.S. relations and promised to cooperate with China in the battle against COVID-19.
It has been more than five months since Biden took office, yet the world has only seen more bouts of competition and confrontation with China. In addition, by not following up on its original intention to cooperate with China, the Biden administration is trying to forge an "alliance of democracy" to contain China altogether. This recent G7 Summit and NATO leaders' meeting proved that exactly.
However, the combination of unrealistic promises, wishful thinking, and alliance formation may not turn out too well. For example, in 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama delivered his famous A New Beginning speech in Cairo, Egypt, promising to enhance the mutual understanding and relations between Islamic nations and the West. Eventually, in 2016, Obama acknowledged he had failed to attain that goal.
Both the U.S. and its allies should listen to the wisdom of a great American. George Washington once said, "The great rule of conduct for us, regarding foreign nations, is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible…it is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world… not entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of other nations."
The Biden administration seems to have forgotten Washington's advice.
Stuck in the middle
One lesson the EU learned during the Trump presidency is the importance of maintaining its own "strategic autonomy." Such a concern partially promoted it to conclude negotiations on a comprehensive investment deal with China at the end of 2020.
During this year's G7 Summit, Italy, France, and Germany, representing the EU in the bloc, were sidelined by Anglosphere G7 nations, namely the U.S., the UK, and Canada. Their divide on the policy toward China also garnered much attention.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi agreed that the G7 had to be frank about differences between the West and China. He also emphasized cooperation with China and called to stop directly criticizing the Belt and Road Initiative.
French President Emmanuel Macron stated that the G7 is not a hostile club targeting China.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the most senior national leader among G7, stressed that the group should seek to balance its dealings with China and reminded other national leaders that their countries share "cooperative ties on many issues." Being constructive, Merkel offered a route map to a ratification of the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment.
Aside from several EU leaders expressing their willingness to maintain cooperation with China, the larger picture confirms the different attitudes on China's roles in Europe.
China overtook the U.S. to become the EU's largest trading partner in goods in 2020. It is safe to say that the majority of the G7 economies are highly intertwined with China.
Moreover, a poll recently conducted by the European Council on Foreign Relations indicated that most Europeans consider both China and the U.S. important partners.
During Biden's first overseas trip as U.S. president, the cracks among the G7 states were becoming apparent. The warm welcome he received by no means suggested willingness among the EU to sacrifice its precious "strategic autonomy" and endorse a de facto new "cold war" between the West and China.
(Print Edition Title:A Misguided Focus on China )
The author is a research fellow at the Collaborative Innovation Center of South China Sea Studies at Nanjing University
Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon
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