The G7's balancing act is tested by a multipolar world

A recent summit in Japan saw leading nations try to grapple with an array of global challenges

G7 leaders attend a working lunch in Hiroshima, Japan on May 19. The summit prioritised critical global issues, with a strong focus on the urgency of climate action. Reuters
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Against the backdrop of a rapidly changing geopolitical landscape, G7 leaders meeting in Hiroshima last week grappled with pressing issues, particularly the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the complex relationship with China. The resulting communique revealed a delicate balancing act, condemning aggression while seeking pragmatic engagement. The summit also emphasised the urgency of climate action, digital governance, and multilateral co-operation.

With a resolute voice, the G7 leaders unequivocally condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine highlighting the severe humanitarian consequences of the conflict, expressing deep concerns about the displacement of civilians, food security and the potential for further escalation. They recognised the need to prevent similar events in other former-Soviet territories, demonstrating a commitment to safeguarding the sovereignty of independent states and protecting the global order.

To support Ukraine, the G7 leaders pledged increased financial and humanitarian assistance, including food aid, medical supplies and support for internally displaced people. They also affirmed their commitment to impose targeted economic sanctions on Russia to exert pressure and promote a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The G7 reiterated their support for the Normandy Format and the Minsk agreements as essential frameworks for negotiations between Ukraine and Russia.

The final communique also expressed apprehension about the threat of cyberattacks, recognising their potential to disrupt critical infrastructure and destabilise nations. By addressing this issue, the G7 aimed to strengthen cybersecurity measures and promote international co-operation to mitigate the risks posed by hostile cyber activities. The leaders acknowledged the need for robust legal frameworks and cross-border collaboration to combat cyber threats effectively.

The G7 summit included a significant focus on China. The communique referenced the country 20 times, reflecting increasing tensions between Beijing and the group of industrialised countries. While asserting their positions, the G7 leaders also displayed a somewhat pragmatic approach, acknowledging China's economic progress and development.

The G7 clarified that their intent was not to impede China's growth but to act in their respective national interests. They sought to establish a more balanced and fair-trading relationship, addressing concerns related to market access, intellectual property rights and state subsidies. Importantly, it was acknowledged that co-operation on shared challenges, such as climate change, global health crises and non-proliferation, should foster better relations and reduce tensions between China and the West.

To address some of their concerns, the G7 leaders emphasised the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. They called for peaceful dialogue and respect for the status quo, urging all parties to refrain from provocative actions that could escalate tensions.

Despite China's criticism of the summit as an "anti-China workshop”, there were indications of possible collaboration and risk reduction without complete disengagement. Despite the rhetoric from both sides, the US president concluded the post-summit press conference on a positive note, stating, "We're not seeking to sever ties with China. We're aiming to reduce risks and diversify our relationship with China."

The summit in Hiroshima exemplified the complex dynamics and strategic considerations driving the G7's actions

The summit prioritised critical global challenges, with a strong focus on the urgency of climate action. Recognising the devastating impact of climate change, the leaders urged all parties to align their climate commitments with the 1.5°C pathway outlined in the Paris Agreement. They emphasised the need to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and pledged increased financial support to developing countries for climate mitigation and adaptation efforts.

In the realm of digital governance, the G7 leaders recognised the transformative power of technology and the importance of ensuring a secure and inclusive digital future. They called for increased co-operation to address challenges such as data protection, online privacy, cyber threats and the ethical implications of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence. The G7 committed to promoting digital literacy and ensuring equal access to the benefits of the digital era.

Multilateralism took centre stage, with the G7 leaders reaffirming their commitment to revitalising international institutions. They discussed the importance of reforming the World Trade Organisation to ensure its relevance and effectiveness in addressing trade disputes and fostering fair and inclusive economic growth. The G7 expressed support for reforming international tax rules to address tax avoidance and ensure a level playing field for all countries.

One of the prominent focal points at this year's summit revolved around the efforts of the G7 nations to establish connections with the Global South. In an effort to promote inclusivity and engagement, leaders from India, Brazil, Indonesia and Vietnam, along with the president of Comoros in his role as the African Union’s rotating chairperson, were extended invitations to participate in the Hiroshima summit.

The summit showcased the intricacies of international diplomacy as world leaders grappled with complex geopolitical challenges. While condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine and addressing tensions with China, the leaders adopted a pragmatic approach, recognising the significance of constructive dialogue and co-operation. The summit underscored the urgent need for collective action on climate change, digital governance and multilateral initiatives to effectively tackle global issues.

The communique reflects the collective effort of the US and its close allies to assert their position in a shifting global landscape that challenges the existing American-led global order and their intention to counter China's growing influence. It also emphasises the importance of economic resilience and security, suggesting a pragmatic approach of diversifying partnerships and reducing risks rather than completely severing ties.

The concepts of "decoupling" and "de-risking" highlight the careful balancing act of the G7's goals of limiting China's involvement in strategic sectors while maintaining economic benefits. Moreover, the gathering went some way towards including non-western countries in shaping the future global order, with the participation of various nations and a commitment to strengthening partnerships with African countries.

Although not a full endorsement of multipolarity, this indicates the G7's recognition that they cannot remain an exclusive club in the face of China's influence around the world. The summit in Hiroshima exemplified the complex dynamics and strategic considerations driving the G7's actions as it navigates the challenges of a multipolar world.

Published: May 29, 2023, 4:00 AM