Images of Joe Biden and his G7 teammates chatting near a Cornish beach while enjoying grilled lobster may not have been the best announcement for social distance rules in times of pandemic times. But the beach kitchen was designed to send another message: under a renewed American leadership, the world’s major Western democracies are back in business.
After four years of Donald Trump’s presidency, when diplomatic shout-out parties were more likely features at G7 summits than a cozy outdoor restaurant, there was a collective sigh of relief. “This is the first time in four years that they have agreed,” said a British official.
The warmth towards Biden was reflected in the bonhomie between the President of the United States and the Frenchman Emmanuel Macron, who walked along the white sand of Carbis Bay, with his arms wrapped around him. “The United States is back,” Biden said. Macron retorted, “Yes definitely.”
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, who is enjoying the role of guest after Brexit, called the three-day meeting “historic”. After the disruption of the Trump years, there was a real agreement on global issues between the leaders of what Johnson called Democracy XI: the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan is invited from Australia, South Korea and South Africa. India’s Narendra Modi has virtually assisted.
In what seemed to mark an apparent step towards social democracy from the world’s major capitalist economies, the G7 supported Biden’s call to “meet the momentum and sustain the economy” with more spending; Johnson spoke of the need to fight inequality.
But while there was an agreement on additional funding for vaccines for the developing world, a plan to fight future pandemics, funding for girls ’education and agreement on the need to fund “clean, green” projects in the developing world, there were divergences of opinion.
Biden said he saw the summit as the moment the West strengthened its position on China, expanding. a “democratic” alternative to the China Belt and Road initiative, which Washington believes extends Beijing’s influence – including unsustainable debt and poor labor standards – around the world.
“I think you’re going to see only simple deals with China,” Biden told reporters after the summit.
But while White House officials said Saturday’s first G7 session was focused on China, Britain sought to avoid framing it in those terms, saying it was about “rebuilding better” afterwards. the pandemic.
Johnson declined to mention China in his closing press conference, and an EU diplomat said Johnson, Canadian Justin Trudeau and Italian Mario Draghi have argued that the G7’s emphasis should be on to make a positive case for the West rather than deliberately antagonizing China.
EU countries wanted to emphasize what they say is a more nuanced view towards relations with Beijing. “Our approach is that we need to cooperate with China on issues such as climate change, compete in sectors such as global supply chains and challenge China’s record in sectors such as human rights.” , said a European diplomat.
Johnson’s recent UK foreign policy review reflects a broader European effort to ride two horses at once: it talks about seeking “deeper trade ties and more Chinese investment in the UK,” while challenging China in other areas.
Biden said he was “satisfied” with the summit’s communiqué – agreed by officials at 1.30am on Sunday morning and calling on China three times, including the human rights abuses in Xinjiang. But U.S. officials have insisted that the West needs to go further against the Xi Jinping Belt and Road Initiative with a package to fund global infrastructure, not just green schemes.
Even on what British officials called the “greenbelt and road” plan, there was little new money. Downing Street said it was more about “aligning” promises that Britain and other Western countries had already made to fund environmental projects in poor countries.
For Johnson, who sought to use the summit as the moment Britain was freed from five years of introspection over Brexit and faced the world as a key convening power, the Carbis Bay summit was only a partial success.
As with other major summer national events – such as the 2012 Olympics or a royal wedding – the UK has demonstrated its mastery of television shows and created events that “feel good”.
In the midst of the blue sky and white sandy beaches, the leaders met Queen Elizabeth in a futuristic environmental park, while her companions and their spouses were brought to a theater on the Cornish Cliffftop. The red arrows of the RAF pirouetted over the barbecue on the beach. Responding to recent G7 summits, the event was marred by goodwill.
But Brexit has continued to pursue Johnson’s attempt to project the image of a secure “convening” country that unites the world. The Prime Minister has instead been embroiled in rhetorical battles with the UK’s closest trading partners in Europe.
Biden had urged Johnson ahead of the summit to refresh the language on Northern Ireland. But the British Prime Minister ramped it up – unleashed the wrath of the French delegation.
Its foreign secretary Dominic Raab accused EU leaders of acting as if Northern Ireland was “somehow a different country from the UK”. David Frost, the British EU minister, attended the meetings wearing union jack socks, while British officials noted that HMS Tamar, a Royal Navy ship patrolling the waters of Carbis Bay, was the ship recently shipped to Channel Islands in a fishing dispute with France.
Johnson insisted at the closing press conference that Brexit was only a “small disappearing” part of the G7 talks. The first face-to-face meeting of Western leaders in nearly two years was rather an occasion for “fantastic harmony.”
This was certainly not a repeat of the 2018 G7, when Trump rejected the summit statement and called the host, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, “Weak and dishonest”. But executives flying out of Carbis Bay on Sunday have left behind a lot of unfinished business.