LONDON • Ministers from the Group of Seven (G-7) rich democracies were set to discuss yesterday ways of countering challenges from China and Russia without trying to contain Beijing or escalate tension with the Kremlin, two of its top diplomats said.
Founded in 1975 as a forum for the West's richest nations to discuss crises like the Opec (Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) oil embargo, the G-7 is debating responses to the two vast and increasingly assertive countries as well as the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change.
"It is not our purpose to try to contain China or to hold China down," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters on Monday, ahead of the first in-person G-7 foreign ministers' meeting since 2019.
He said the West would defend "the international rules-based order" from subversive attempts by any country, including China.
China was to be the focus of discussions yesterday morning while afternoon talks were to turn to Russia, including how to respond to troop manoeuvres on the country's border with Ukraine and the imprisonment of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
China's spectacular economic and military rise over the past 40 years is seen by diplomats and investors as the most significant geopolitical events of recent times, alongside the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union which ended the Cold War.
The G-7 combined still packs a mighty punch: it has about US$40 trillion (S$54 trillion) in economic clout and three of the world's five official nuclear powers.
Russia was included in what became the G-8 in 1997, but was suspended in 2014 after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine.
China, now the world's second-largest economy, has never been a member of the G-7, which comprises Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, with the European Union as an observer.
As host, the UK has invited additional countries to join as guests at this week's meeting, including Australia, India, South Africa, South Korea, and Brunei in its capacity as chair of Asean.
Britain will seek to find agreement on decisive action from G-7 partners to protect democracies at a time when it says China's economic influence and Russian malign activity threaten to undermine them.
"The UK's presidency of the G-7 is an opportunity to bring together open, democratic societies and demonstrate unity at a time when it is much needed to tackle shared challenges and rising threats," British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.
Longer term, there are deep concerns in both Washington and European capitals about how the West should act towards both Beijing and Moscow.
Mr Blinken said the US would prefer more stable ties with Russia, but that much depended on how President Vladimir Putin decided to act, especially in theatres such as Ukraine, which Mr Blinken will visit later this week.
"We're not looking to escalate; we would prefer to have a more stable, more predictable relationship. And if Russia moves in that direction, so will we," he said.
The ministers will lay the groundwork for US President Joe Biden's first scheduled trip abroad since taking office: a G-7 summit in Britain next month.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged the G-7 countries to dig deep and fund the global Covid-19 recovery.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday urged the G-7 to take decisive action at their June 11-13 summit, to be hosted by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Cornwall, south-west England.
The Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator programme for developing and distributing coronavirus vaccines, tests and therapeutics is US$19 billion short of its US$22 billion target this year. A further US$35 billion to US$45 billion will be needed next year to ensure most adults around the world get immunised.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE