Images of Joe Biden and other G7 leaders chatting up close on a Cornish beach as they barbecued lobster may not have been the best publicity for social distancing rules in times of a pandemic. But the beach barbecue was designed to send another message: under renewed American leadership, the world’s major Western democracies are back in business.
After four years of Donald Trump’s presidency, when diplomatic screams were more likely at G7 summits than cozy alfresco dining, there was a collective sigh of relief. “This is the first time in four years that they have really gotten along,” said a British official.
The warmth towards Biden was reflected in the good nature between the US president and Frenchman Emmanuel Macron, walking along the white sands of Carbis Bay, arms draped around each other. “The United States is back,” Biden said. Macron retaliated: “Yes, definitely.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, reveling in the post-Brexit host role, called the three-day meeting “historic”. After the disruption of the Trump years, there was real agreement on global issues between the leaders of what Johnson called Democracy XI: the US, UK, Canada, France, Germany , Italy, Japan and guests from Australia, South Korea and South Korea. Africa. The Indian Narendra Modi participated virtually.
In what seemed to mark an apparent shift towards social democracy of the world’s major capitalist economies, the G7 backed Biden’s call to “respond to the present moment and support the economy” by spending more; Johnson spoke of the need to tackle inequality.
But while there was agreement on additional funding for vaccines for the developing world, a plan to tackle future pandemics, funding for girls’ education, and agreement on the need to fund projects ” clean and green ”in the developing world, there were differences of opinion.
Biden said he sees the summit as the time when the West hardens its stance towards China, developing a “democratic” alternative to the Chinese “Belt and Road” initiative, which Washington says is spreading Beijing’s influence – including unsustainable debt and poor labor standards – across the world.
“I think you are going to see easy relations with China,” Biden told reporters after the summit.
But while White House officials said the first G7 session on Saturday was focused on China, Britain sought to avoid phrasing it in those terms, saying it was “to rebuild in better ”after the pandemic.
Johnson declined to mention China in his closing press conference, and an EU diplomat said Johnson, Justin Trudeau of Canada and Mario Draghi of Italy argued that the G7 should focus on on the defense of the West rather than deliberately opposing China.
EU countries have been keen to highlight what they say is a more nuanced view of relations with Beijing. “Our approach is that we must cooperate with China on issues such as climate change, compete in areas such as global supply chains, and challenge China’s record in areas such as human rights. “Said a European diplomat.
Johnson recent UK foreign policy review reflects a broader European effort to ride two horses at once: he talks about seeking “deeper trade ties and more Chinese investment in the UK”, while challenging China in other areas.
Biden said he was “happy” with the summit statement – approved by officials at 1:30 a.m. Sunday morning and mentioning China three times, including the human rights violation in Xinjiang. But US officials have insisted that the West must go further in the fight against Xi Jinping’s “Belt and Road” initiative with a package to finance global infrastructure, not just green projects.
Even on what the British authorities called the “green belt and road” plan, there was little new money. Downing Street said it was more about “aligning” the promises 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 when Britain broke free from five years of Brexit soul-searching and made the world a key convening power, the Carbis Bay summit was only only partial success.
As with other major national summer events – such as the 2012 Olympics or a royal wedding – the UK has shown its mastery of television shows and creating “feel good” events.
Against the backdrop of blue skies and white sandy beaches, the leaders met Queen Elizabeth in a futuristic environmental park, while their partners and wives were taken to a theater atop a Cornish cliff. The RAF’s red arrows circled above the beach barbecue. Compared to recent G7 summits, the event has been bathed in goodwill.
But Brexit continued to hamper Johnson’s attempt to project the image of a confident ‘rallying’ country bringing the world together. Instead, the PM has been dragged back into rhetorical battles with the UK’s closest trading partners in Europe.
Biden had urged Johnson ahead of the summit to cool the tongue on Northern Ireland. But the British Prime Minister sped it up – triggering the ire 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, UK Minister for the EU, showed up to the meetings wearing Union Jack socks, while UK officials pointed out that HMS Tamar, a Royal Navy vessel patrolling the waters off Carbis Bay, was the ship recently sent to the Channel Islands in a fishing dispute with France.
Johnson insisted at the closing press conference that Brexit was only a “tiny” part of the G7 talks. Rather, the first face-to-face meeting between Western leaders in nearly two years was the occasion of “fantastic harmony”.
It was certainly not a repeat of the 2018 G7, when Trump reneged on the summit communiqué and called on host, Canadian Justin Trudeau, “weak and dishonest”. But the leaders who left Carbis Bay on Sunday left many unfinished business behind.