The eyes of the world media audience are on Cornwall, a south-west England holiday destination, over the next couple of days as the powerful Group of Seven (G7) summit is going on there. The usual allies — the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada and the US — are joined on this occasion by Australia, South Korea, India and South Africa. Media reports on the summit are many, a few of which, cited below, are interesting:
A Reuters report (“G7 ‘circus’ gives leaders a chance to hug, hustle and joke”, June 11, 2021) said:
“Boris Johnson cast the Group of Seven summit as a ‘gigantic media circus’ on Thursday after leaders were paraded before journalists and U.S. President Joe Biden walked arm-in-arm up the beach discussing democracy with France’s Emmanuel Macron.
“G7 summits are notorious for anodyne and slightly ridiculous photo opportunities which leave world leaders struggling to seem natural in bizarre contexts – for example meeting another world leader on a small, overcast English beach.
“Under grey clouds, British prime minister Johnson, with ruffled blonde hair, and his new wife Carrie, greeted other G7 leaders and their partners on a specially constructed wooden gangway beside the Atlantic.
“After the leaders returned for a socially distanced ‘family photograph’, Germany’s Angela Merkel urged Johnson ahead, telling him: ‘You are the leader.’”
“French President Macron held back, making a few remarks to Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, before Biden draped his arm around Macron who returned the embrace. They walked smiling, arm-in-arm along the walkway, discussing affairs of state.
“The Elysee Palace said Macron and Biden had talked about ‘how to make democracies more efficient for the middle class and on China said there should be no confrontation but that we should defend our values and interests.’
“As he opened the summit, Johnson said it would be hugely significant after the ‘wretched pandemic’ and speculated that perhaps leaders could rebuild in ‘a more gender neutral, a more feminine, way.’
The Reuters report said:
“Ordering the media to leave the meeting after his initial remarks, Johnson said: ‘This is meant to be a fireside chat between the great democracies of the world – it’s turned into a gigantic media circus in which we have to greet each other several times.’
“Such was the awkwardness of many of the staged encounters that U.S. first lady Jill Biden quipped: ‘I feel like we are at a wedding.’ Johnson, whose recent marriage is his third, said it was like ‘walking down the aisle.’
“President Biden urged journalists to go swimming, feigning an order: ‘Everybody in the water.’
“When asked what his message would be to Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin when the two leaders meet in Geneva next week, Biden said: ‘I’ll tell you after I have delivered it.’”
Another media report (“G7 leaders gathered for a ‘family photo’ on an English beach, and Biden joked they should jump in the water”, June 11, 2021) said:
“This year’s G7 “family photo” was taken on a beach in Cornwall, England, with world leaders’ windswept hair stealing the show.
“British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was front and center, with President Joe Biden – who is on his first trip abroad as commander-in-chief – to his right. The other leaders in the photo included: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudea, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President of the European Council Charles Michel, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen.”
“Biden, whose political career has in many ways been defined by a focus on foreign policy, appears relaxed and in his element in the photo.
‘Everybody in the water,’ Biden jokingly said as the leaders gathered to pose for the shot. He walked up with Macron, each with an arm draped around each other’s back.”
Another Reuters report (“America may be ‘back’ at G7, but allies’ doubts about U.S. democracy linger”, June 11, 2021) said:
“In 2017 the president of the United States shocked Washington’s Western allies during his first European trip, scolding them for failing to pay their “fair share” on defense, physically shoving aside one prime minister, and white-knuckling another leader in a public handshake.
“After four tumultuous years for the transatlantic relationship under Donald Trump, his Democratic successor Joe Biden’s words of friendship and promise that ‘America is back’ as he meets Western allies this week and next are a welcome relief.
“But they’re not enough, diplomats and foreign policy experts say.
“Biden faces lingering doubts about America’s reliability as a partner. Leaders from the Group of Seven advanced economies, NATO and the European Union are worried about the pendulum of U.S. politics swinging yet again, and are looking for concrete action, not words after the shock of the Trump years.
“‘Is this an interregnum between Trump 1.0 and Trump 2.0? Nobody knows,’ said David O’Sullivan, a former European Union ambassador to Washington. ‘I think most people are of the view that we should seize the opportunity with this administration to strengthen the relationship and hope that this can survive beyond the midterms and 2024.’”
The report said:
“European leaders have been upbeat publicly, hailing the survival of multilateralism – but their doubts go beyond the scarring of the Trump years. The Biden administration’s foreign policy has been sending mixed signals, marked by some missteps and uncertainty over key policy areas such as China, thanks to lengthy reviews, former U.S. officials and diplomatic sources said.
“‘America’s partners are still reeling from what happened under Trump,’ said Harry Broadman, a former senior U.S. official and managing director at Berkeley Research Group. ‘But some of Biden’s messaging has also been disjointed.’”
The report said:
“Just a handful of concrete international policies have emerged almost five months since taking office, while Biden’s decisions to push for ‘Buy America’ provisions, back a waiver of intellectual property rights at the World Trade Organization with little consultation with other members, and set an aggressive schedule for withdrawal from Afghanistan have unnerved allies.”
“The timeline sent allies scrambling to keep up, several Western diplomats said, adding that they saw the move as designed for domestic consumption.
“Both Biden and his top diplomat, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have repeatedly said U.S. foreign policy first and foremost should benefit America’s middle class.
“For many European governments, that sounds like a euphemism for Trump’s isolationist ‘America First’ motto. ‘America first will remain, no doubt,’ one Western diplomatic source said.”
The Reuters report said:
“A major underlying concern for many foreign allies is a fundamental one, many experts say – their faith in American democracy is shaken.
“Trump for months peddled false claims that he won the Nov. 3 election and on Jan. 6 encouraged his supporters to march to the U.S. Capitol while lawmakers were certifying Biden’s victory.
“The riot, which led to the evacuation of the building and five deaths, stunned world leaders.
“Jamie Shea, a former senior NATO official now at the Friends of Europe think tank in Brussels, told Reuters he was concerned that the next U.S. president could be another Trump-style leader.
“‘So I believe that we have four years,’ he said, ‘we have a limited period of time with this pro-European administration, to cement a solid transatlantic economic and security partnership.’”
A Reuters report (“S. Korea’s Moon heads for G7 summit overshadowed by China”, June 11, 2021) said:
“South Korean President Moon Jae-in was set to depart Friday for the Group of Seven summit in Britain where talk of countering China could overshadow Seoul’s efforts to be seen as a bigger player on issues such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“However, the summit is also expected to include discussions on free trade and countering Beijing’s growing influence. Another guest nation at the summit, Australia, has called on the G7 to back reform of the World Trade Organization to address the growing use of ‘economic coercion’ amid a dispute with China.
“Seoul has walked a fine line in its approach to Beijing, which is South Korea’s largest trading partner and which has shown a willingness to retaliate economically, as during a 2017 dispute over U.S. anti-missile systems based in South Korea.”