If the G7 summit, recently held at the UK’s seaside resort Carbis bay in Cornwall, would be remembered for one thing, it would be for President Biden’s desire to lead the western world in general and to redefine the contours of Washington’s rivalry with China. The stage has now been set for a new Cold War, even though the hostility against China has been there for over a decade now, with tensions in the waters of the South China Sea where China has acquired islands and littorals, and China’s aggressive diplomacy with its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which far supersedes all the grants that the western countries collectively offer to the third world. But over the past year, it is China’s alleged role in the spread of the Covid-19 virus and Beijing’s stone walling of any serious investigation of its research labs – such as the one in Wuhan – which could have been the source of the pandemic, has become the rallying point of the Western countries against China. The G7 has thus vowed to investigate the pandemic’s origins.
Ironically, even as China prepares to celebrate the centenary of the founding of its Communist Party on 1st July this year, there is both admiration for its phenomenal economic growth and anger at the way it seeks to influence events across the world. Indeed as China is today the only serious challenger to American hegemony – and I might add, that there are some who think it isn’t such a bad thing after all – there is now a strong anti-Chinese sentiment in the US. Similarly, within China the Communist Party’s leadership is fanning anti-US sentiments by its state controlled media. But it isn’t just a contest of economies – with China’s nearly $15 trillion GDP coming rapidly closer to America’s that stands at $ 22.5 trillion – but it’s a clash of ideologies that’s at stake. The Chinese model – backed by Beijing’s handouts to smaller and weaker economies – despite its totalitarian nature, could become an alternative to many countries that saw the rich countries of the West unwilling to offer hope or financial support to the poorer nation, as they desperately grappled with the devastation of the pandemic. China instead, had bounced back quickly after the initial months of the pandemic and was back into business as usual.
Prior to the G7 summit, some in the Western media had projected that it was going to be the US’s last chance to lead the world. No wonder, President Biden wrote in The Washington Post, on the eve of the G-7 Summit, that “the United States must lead the world from a position of strength”. And thus, on his first foreign visit as President, Mr Biden decided to use the G-7 summit to his best advantage, such as the announcement of “Building Back Better – World” (B3W) as the main theme of the Summit, as an initiative of meeting the infrastructure needs of ‘low and middle income countries’. In reality B3W is meant to counter China’s trillion dollar plus Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), that’s all over the world buying out greedy leaders and territory wherever Beijing sees an opportunity. Moreover, the question that the critics of B3W are asking : ‘where would all the money come from’ to fund the initiatives that might counter China’s BRI? Mr Biden wants the rich and large corporations to pay more taxes to help houses to pay. But will they? Moreover, in the democracies that make up the G7, this would require debates followed by legislation. In China, the money for projects like the BRI comes with the diktat of the Communist Party – as billionaire Jack Ma learnt recently – or that of its supreme leader, President Xi Jinping. Besides, the G7 offer of 2 billion vaccines for the poor countries facing the Covid menace is woefully short of the world’s requirements of 12 – 14 billion vaccines. The West cannot be safe, if the rest of the world is still unvaccinated.
Even then, the battle lines between the West and two totalitarian powers were further accentuated following the confrontational declaration against the Russian and Chinese government’s stand against dissidents – like Russian opposition leader Anatolievic, or those in Hong Kong – and for Beijing’s repression in China’s Xinjiang region where its Uighur Muslims are facing the same high-handed tactics as the Tibetans have for decades. Over a million Uighurs are either in labour camps or being educated to be good ‘Chinese Muslims’, whatever that means. While President Putin warned the US against transforming G-7 from a designed framework for economic development into one of ‘anti-Russia and anti-China club’, China has accused the US of ‘fanning confrontation’. And while Russia and China may not be on the same page on all issues, they are certainly watching closely how the QUAD- the much trumpeted quadrilateral maritime arrangement between the US, Japan, Australia and India – evolves into what China has dubbed as a possible Asian NATO. Whether it does become one, the ongoing Sino-Indian stand-off in Ladakh, gives the US and the G7 a good template to build upon this initiative with India, which has in the past shunned military alliances.
Beijing however knows that it is no longer a pushover, even though its military will only become world class by 2035. Today the US and Japan are said to have more naval punch than China. But military might now is essentially there to deter ‘expansionism’, as Mr Modi reminded the Chinese when he visited Ladakh after the clashes at Galwan. But it is China’s economic clout on Europe’s G7 members that could lead to their reluctance to join Mr Biden anti-China chorus. From 2010 to 2019, according to the Mercator Institute of China Studies, Chinese foreign direct investment in Germany was €22.7 billion (US $27.5 billion); in Italy €15.9 billion (US $19.2 billion); and in France €14.4 billion (US $17.4 billion). Even the UK, where relationships with China have been deeply strained over the last couple of years, received €50.3 billion (US$60.9) in such investment. Thus in the final analysis, “the European Union’s desire for strategic autonomy and Biden’s hunt for allies to primarily counter China, will create natural barriers to cooperation,” analysts at Eurasia Group wrote in a note ahead of Mr Biden’s trip to the UK and Europe.
The writer is a retired army officer and columnist