47th G7 meeting was held at Cornwall, UK in May this year. The May G7 meeting was significant for many reasons but most importantly that this was also Jo Biden’s first foreign outing as the President of USA.
Although the meeting announced more prominently, COVID 19 and Climate Change as its agenda, the real purpose of the meeting was to find a way to re-establish the post WWII cold war international order that basically grouped countries in terms of the Bullies (G7 led by the US), the Bullied and the Lapdog of the Bullies.
The world is no more 1960s and 1970s world to allow such groupings no more. It has changed significantly, both militarily as well as economically. These days the Bullies of the past look more like barking dogs and there are also not that many that can be bullied that easily. But few Lapdogs that wish to thrive on the back of the hope-to-be resurgent Bullies, do exist.
In this changed world where both economic and military powers have shifted and dispersed in many locations and, in an environment, where there are new kids in the block, the G7 meeting focused, among other things, on China which in recent years has grown in strength exponentially, both militarily as well as economically, and has spread its influence worldwide, through use of soft power, through investing and building infrastructure. Indeed, China’s influence, worldwide, that has occurred through cooperation without a single bomb dropped, without boots on the ground and with no one killed has given rise to the theory that there are ways to spread influence through means that are peaceful, dignified and mutually beneficial.
However, the G7 countries that continue to use violence as a means of retaining control over other countries have not quite missed the potential of soft power either and thus to outcompete China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – a global infrastructure development project of China – they have also included in its 47th Summit agenda, a “Build back better” (BBB) initiative that proposes to build infrastructure in poorer countries. This is promising but there are challenges. Firstly, it would be difficult for the G7 to beat China’s BRI in cost and in investment capital which the latter has in plenty. Secondly, and this is important, which is that the G7 countries that are used to bringing countries under their fold through wars and bombs, may find soft power strategy, through BBB, a daunting mindset shift.
Furthermore, at a time when China was investing in science and technology which they also shared with other countries, the G7 countries especially the US “squandered trillions of dollars on needless wars”.
Indeed, US and its allies seem to be caught in the hammer/nail syndrome. Instead of finding peaceful means to resolve differences with China they are choosing trade protectionism and war which would only make things worse not just for them but the rest of the world as well.
Interestingly and if history is any guide, US hysteria against competition and its adherence to cooperation is not new. During 1970s and 1980s Japan that outcompeted US in automobiles and in capital market was greeted with similar vicious hostility and ugly demonization where some in US claimed at the time that Japan “threatens our way of life and ultimately our freedoms as much as past dangers from Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union”. Sounds familiar?
In sum, former hegemons especially the US are in a “PANIC” mode, behaving a bit like headless chooks without direction. This is not helpful.
It is time that the G7 countries especially the US realize that their enemy is not China but themselves. Over the years they, especially US have militarized their economies, shunned competitiveness and promoted structural inequities that have since exhausted their coffer, took away their competitive edge and proliferated and entrenched injustices at many levels. Thus in a situation where their problem is within and not outside confrontation with a successful economy in a globalized world that has global outreach risks destabilisation of an evolving international economic order – which is not necessarily without problem – that has since demonstrated that cooperation and healthy competition and not conflict yield prosperity for all, within and across, is not just mad but suicidal.
Therefore, instead of attacking a rival that has in fact shown the alternative way to benefit through cooperation and competitiveness and not through violent subjugation, the G7 countries especially the US may consider actions at three levels: firstly, reduce wasteful investments in wars and war industries; second, invest in technologies to make economies more competitive and efficient and thirdly, and more importantly, devote more time, resources and energy in promoting wellbeing of people, both within and across.
G7 countries also need to appreciate that our current challenges are economic, epidemiological, and environmental in nature and that these are also global and thus, require global and not group-based solutions and warrant cooperation and not violence.
Let me finish off with this advice for the G7 countries, especially the US, by quoting a 17th Century Indian Urdu poet, Ghalib:
(“Umar bhar Ghalib Yeh hi bhool karta raha; Dhool Chehre pe thi; Aur aina saaf karta raha”) – Throughout his life Ghalib made the same mistake over and again, Dirt was on his face, wasted time by wiping the mirror!
Indeed, the dirt is on the face and not on the mirror!
The author is an academic and a former senior policy manager of the UN