News analysis: Why can't G7 elites deliver coordinated results?

Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7), a club of some of the world's wealthiest countries, gathered in the Japanese city of Hiroshima from Friday to Sunday for their annual summit.

The summit offered a platform for its members – the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan – to come up with a coordinated response to global economic and political issues. However, analysis from the media and experts suggested the G7 members' own economic and political divisions meant the "group of old-fashioned countries" struggled to deliver coordinated outcomes.

U.S. provokes divisions

One month before the summit, U.S. President Joe Biden announced there would be investment curbs proposed to the G7 against China. Ever since, reports of the G7 seeking an approach to counter economic coercion by China have been rampant in Western media.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has repeatedly refuted the allegation of "China's economic coercion," stressing China itself is the victim of economic coercion by the U.S., as the U.S. has been browbeating countries into economic decoupling from China, imposed a sci-tech blockade on China and suppressed Chinese companies.

Stating it is the U.S. that coerces its allies to form exclusive blocs, the ministry urged other G7 countries to stop following it.

China's remarks echo those of media and officials from some G7 members.

According to German state-owned media agency Deutsche Welle (DW), although the U.S. intends to economically suppress China as it did to Japan in the 1980s, other G7 members actually don't want to confront China.

On May 9, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz reiterated his party's stance that the European Union (EU) should focus on the economy and trade rather than being more involved in geopolitics.

French President Emmanuel Macron voiced similar views during an interview with French newspaper Les Echo, by stressing the EU's strategic autonomy and independence from the U.S. in its position on China after he visited the country with a high-profile delegation in early April.

"We absolutely need to cooperate with China on some issues," former French Ambassador to China Sylvie Bermann told China Media Group (CMG).

An evolving situation in the U.S. during the G7 summit's "warm-up" period was the U.S.'s debt ceiling crisis.

Due to debt ceiling negotiations in Washington, Biden on May 16 said he would cancel several items on his trip agenda, including a scheduled meeting of the Quadrilateral Strategic Dialogue (Quad) – the U.S., Japan, Australia, and India – in Sydney, and a meeting with the Pacific islands nation at the Pacific Islands Forum.

India and Australia are not part of the G7 group, but they were invited to attend the summit in Japan.

Biden didn't notify Australia in advance about canceling the trip, and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese "was awoken at about 4:30 a.m. to the shocking news" and lined up a call in the early hours, according to Sky News. The two finally decided to meet in Japan during the summit and Biden confirmed he would be postponing his visit to Australia after their phone talks.

The New York Times commented in an article that Washington's extended economic and political crises have "prompted foreign leaders to factor American unpredictability into their calculations."

South Korea-Japan tension amid U.S. power relations

Invited by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida as an observer, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol also attended the summit. However, Yoon's pro-Japanese policies have stirred up strong protests from the public and opposition parties.

Yoon said in an interview with the Washington Post on April 24 that he "can't accept the notion" that Japan should be forced to kneel "because of what happened 100 years ago." His remarks were criticized by South Korean media as unilateral submission toward Japan, in which he emphasized the future at the expense of the past while seeking to improve Korea-Japan relations.

Anti-Japanese sentiment in South Korea increased as Kishida visited Seoul's National Cemetery in early May, a place where war veterans, including those from the fight against Japanese colonial rule, are buried, to lay flowers. However, he failed to apologize for Japan's invasion during World War Two.

The move was considered by the South Korean media agencies to lack sincerity.

Before Kishida's visit, the main opposition Democratic Party and representatives of civic groups rallied to protest the trip. The leader of the Democratic Party even warned it would attempt to impeach Yoon's government if he repeatedly made bottomless concessions to Japan.

Before the summit, there had been speculation from some scholars and media that South Korea could join the club to form a new G8. However, the possibility was denied by Kishida and the White House.

U.S. foreign policy expert Richard Fontaine, president of the Center for a New American Security, pointed out that the essence of the problem is that although the U.S. is urging South Korea to play a greater role in the Asia-Pacific, it is not in a position to ask the U.S. for anything.

"The problem between Japan and South Korea is not simply a problem between the two countries," said Masakatsu Adachi, honorary professor of Kanto Gakuin University in an interview with CMG, "The manipulator behind it is actually the United States and how the United States wants to use these two countries. In American power relations, Japan and South Korea are nothing more than pawns on a chessboard."

The three-day summit also sparked waves of rallies by protesters from the G7 countries, including the U.S. and Japan.

Noting the G7 members are divided on the goals they would like to realize, DW quoted experts' analysis expressing skepticism about whether the G7 could come up with a coordinated response to the important issues listed on the summit agenda.

(Cover: People hold banners as they demonstrate against the G7 summit, in Tokyo, Japan, May 18, 2023. /CFP)

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