G-7: Origin, development and prospect
THE 47th summit of the Group of Seven (G-7) was held on 11-13 June 2021 in Cornwall, a county in South West England, where its member countries Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States of America along with representatives of the European Union and invited nations which include-Australia, India, South Korea and South Korea met to discuss the common problems and challenges faced by the world and sought a reasonable solution during the pandemic and thereafter.
It was originated in the background of 1973 oil crisis and an ad hoc gathering of seven finance ministers, which threatened the world economy at large and compelled the most advanced and wealthiest liberal democracies of the globe to be united to protect and promote their shared values of pluralism and other themes of democratic governments that possess 60% of net global wealth and only 10% of world’s population.
The first summit of its member countries was held on 15-17 November 1975, hosted by France, the then Chairman, and focused on several major economic issues and announced Group’s commitment to promoting free trade, multilateralism, cooperation with the developing world and rapprochement with the Eastern Bloc.
However, the current summit was held in a very different situation and global context owing to pandemic Covid-19 and the People’s Republic of China posing a serious challenge to the powers of the world particularly the United States.
In the context, America wanted a clear anti-China signal on behalf of the G-7 to denounce Beijing’s hegemonic attitude towards the democratic values including the human rights and a collective/joint scheme to counter Chinese Belt and Road Initiatives (BRI).
Foundational basics: The G-7 is an inter-governmental political forum having no treaty and any permanent secretariat or office whose presidency rotates annually among the member countries and the presiding country set its agenda and priorities, but despite weak structure and organizational mechanism it has taken several initiatives and efforts to combat the HIV/AIDS and other pandemics including the Covid-19 and played an important role in climate change and development of developing countries by extending financial help to needy countries.
Although its original membership was limited to four-US, UK, Germany and France and with the inclusion of Japan in mid-1973, it became a Group of Five while on the eve of the first summit in 1975 on the initiative of French President his German counterpart invited Italy and as a result the membership rose to six.
As the economy of Canada was next to the G-6, the very next year in 1976 at Dorado summit Canada became the member of the group raising it to the G-7.
For almost two decades the profile of G-7 raised to “Political 8” (P8) to include Russia following the 1994 summit in Naples when Russian President Boris Yeltsin was invited by the G-7 leaders to be a part of the summit as a guest observer and later as a full participant which soon converted into a full membership after formally joining the group in 1998.
Although, at the time, Russia lacked the national wealth, financial weight, advancement of economy and features of liberal democracy in comparison to other members, but in post-communist phase of overall transition it was believed to fulfil the minimum basics of the G-7.
Further in an unfortunate development Russia’s membership of the group was suspended in March 2014 in response to its annexation of Crimea and in the year 2017 Russia itself declared its departure from the group as following its intervention in Ukraine the group imposed several sanctions on Kremlin.
Objectives and motivations: The primary objective of establishing the G-7 was to facilitate the shared economic initiative in response to the financial problems and energy crisis of the 1970s as well as to check the global recession of the time and since its first summit in 1975 it has met annually and semi-annually and even more keeping in view the requirement of the situation along with broadening its areas of concern to include issues of world security, human rights, and also expressed its views on Iran-Iraq War and Soviet intervention in Afghanistan at the close of 1979.
In successive years and decades its sphere of working continued expanding as in the 1990s it launched a debt relief programme scheme for 42 heavily indebted countries of the world and also provided $300 million to help build the shelter structure over the damaged reactor at Chernobyl and established Financial Stability Forum to regularise the International Monetary Fund.
Following a larger viewpoint at the beginning of the 21st century the G-7 launched the G-20 in order to include other 13 largest economies of the world, including the European Union to promote dialogue between major industrial countries and emerging market economies of the world and played a positive role during the global financial crisis of 2007-2008 and also remained active thereafter.
The current status: The recent summit of the G-7 held in a difficult time particularly from the viewpoint of the United States of America that also happens to be an important rather founder member of the group and who is currently on war path with the People’s Republic of China for about one decade but their rivalry/competition became more assertive during the presidency of Donald Trump and most likely bound to continue under Joe Biden.
Therefore, in the summit Joe Biden, the President of United States urged the member nations to come forward with a viable scheme against the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative project to counter China’s growing economic and security influence across the world which has surpassed the size and ambitions of American Marshall Plan implemented to rebuild Europe after the second world war.
In his address he unveiled a plan named, “Build Back Better for the World,” shortened to B3W to compete with China’s BRI which emphasised environment, anti-corruption, the free flow of information and financing terms that would allow developing countries to avoid taking excess debt.
At the summit all the member countries of G-7 agreed that China was using its investment for strategy which undermines the significance of democracy, human rights and human values all over the world, but at the same time they appeared hesitant in planning and pursuing any harsh step against China due to their huge trade and other economic deals with Beijing.
In a nutshell, they were not clear whether to regard China as a partner, competitor, adversary or outright security threat.
— The writer is Professor and Head, Department of Political Science, B N Mandal University, Madhepura, Bihar, India.