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Blinken and G-7 allies focus on ‘democratic values’

LONDON – The Group of 7 was created to help coordinate the economic policies of the world’s biggest industrial powers. Over the next four decades, he acted to tackle energy shortages, global poverty and financial crises.

But as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets his colleagues from the Group of 7 Foreign Ministers in London this week, a key item on the agenda will be what Mr Blinken called for, in a speech at the press on Monday, “defending democratic values ​​and opening up societies.” “

Implicitly, this defense is against China and, to a lesser extent, against Russia. While the economic and public tasks of recovering from the coronavirus remain paramount, Mr Blinken also employs the Group of 7 – made up of the United States, Great Britain, Canada, France, Germany, United ‘Italy and Japan – to coordinate with its allies in an emerging global competition between democracy and the authoritarian visions of Moscow and Beijing.

A twist in this week’s meeting is the presence of nations that are not formally members of the Group of 7: India, South Korea, Australia and South Africa. Brunei, current president of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is also in attendance.

It is no coincidence that these invited nations are found in the Indo-Pacific region, which places them at the heart of Western efforts to combat Beijing’s growing economic power and territorial ambition. China was the subject of a 90-minute opening session Tuesday morning, and the program concluded with a group dinner on the Indo-Pacific.

“The larger context of these meetings is China and the authoritarian challenge China presents to the democratic world,” said Ash Jain, senior researcher at the Atlantic Council.

Mr. Jain noted how the group now emphasizes common values ​​rather than shared economic interests. “The G-7 is renamed as a group of like-minded democracies, as opposed to a group of ‘highly industrialized nations’. They change the accent, ”he said.

Many of the countries represented at the meeting do big business with China and Russia, complicating efforts to align them with those nations. China’s economic coercion model was one of the specific topics of conversation on Tuesday, attendees said.

But those efforts were simplified by the departure of President Donald J. Trump, who has repeatedly chosen fighting with the Group of 7 allies and confused them with calls for the restoration of Russia, which was expelled in 2014 of what was then the Group of 8 after its annexation. of Crimea from Ukraine.

It is also probably not a coincidence that the expanded guest list matches, with the additions of South Africa and Brunei, a group of 10 countries and the European Union, collectively shorthanded as the “D-10” by supporters of their organization into a new world body. Those supporters include British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the host of this week’s meeting and the architect of its guest list.

Mr Johnson also called on India, Australia and South Korea to send their heads of state to this summer’s Group of 7 summit in Cornwall, citing his “ambition to work with a group of democracies who share same ideas to advance common interests and address common challenges. . “

President Biden also suggested that the world regroup into competing camps, divided by the openness of their political systems. In his speech to Congress last week, Mr. Biden said that “America’s adversaries, the autocrats of the world, are betting” that the nation’s battered democracy cannot be restored.

As a candidate, Biden also pledged to host a “Summit for Democracy” during his first year in office, and officials say planning for such an event is underway. Asked in an interview with the Financial Times on Tuesday about countries that could be invited to such a summit, Blinken did not respond directly.

And Wednesday’s agenda for the meeting includes a session on open societies, including issues of media freedom and disinformation. Other sessions over the two days include Syria, Russia and its neighbors Ukraine and Belarus, Myanmar and Afghanistan.

Some Group of 7 countries are concerned about the creation of a new global body that could contribute to Cold War-type polarization along ideological lines.

At a joint press conference on Monday, Mr Blinken and his British counterpart Dominic Raab refrained from suggesting they are forming a new club.

Asked about the emergence of a new ‘alliance of democracies’, Mr Raab said he did not see it in such’ theological ‘terms, but saw a growing need for’ nimble clusters of countries. sharing the same values ​​and sharing the same values ​​and want to protect the multilateral system. “

Addressing the same issue, Mr Blinken was careful to stress that this week’s meetings were not a plotting against Beijing.

“It is not our goal to try to contain or hold back China,” Blinken said. “What we are trying to do is uphold the rules-based international order in which our countries have invested so much for so many decades, for the benefit, I would say, not only of our own citizens, but of people. of the whole world. – including, by the way, China. (The line isn’t just for public consumption. US diplomats have relayed the same message privately, almost verbatim, to their foreign counterparts.)

But in an interview with CBS ’60 Minutes the day before, Blinken made it clear how the United States views China’s rise to power.

“I think that over time, China believes that it can and should be and will be the dominant country in the world,” Blinken said. China challenges the international order, he said, adding that “we will stand up and defend it.”

Jeremy Shapiro, a former State Department official in the Obama administration who is now research director at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the informal expansion of the Group of 7 was much easier than building a new organ.

“It’s always a pain, from a government perspective, to invent a new forum, because you have to have an endless discussion about who is and who is missing, and how it works, and its relation to the UN, ”said Mr. Shapiro. .

He added that the Group of 7, whose mission had become nebulous in recent years, may have gained a new sense of purpose in trying to organize a post-Trump democratic world in the face of threats from China and Russia.

“You would be hard pressed to look back at the last five or more years since they expelled Russia to name just one thing the G-7 made of interest,” Shapiro said. “There wasn’t much to do.”

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