In recent times various parts of the world have witnessed tense geopolitical situations. States have been hostile towards each other over an array of reasons. Situations get escalated and de-escalated as frequently as the ebb and flow of tide. In this world full of chaos and uncertainty, international support brings some order and alleviates anxiety. Diplomacy and cooperation are tools to gain international support and trust which leads to holistic growth. The United States and China too well understand this. Both states have put enormous capital and constant effort in lobbying and cultivating good relations with other states for long. In light of the mounting animosity between the two, these efforts seem to have picked up pace alongside other actions to build pressure on the other party. Lately, US President Donald Trump moved to expand the Group of Seven (G7) to include Australia, India, South Korea, and even Russia. Several speculations are made with regard to this sudden need for diversification of the age-old G7. Some strongly infer it as a push to counter Chinese endeavors of strengthening their foreign ties through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). However, before arriving at any conclusions, brief insights into these organisations and the influential roles that the US and China play is vital.
It’s an Open Route to China
The multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) seems to be a Chinese effort in quenching its thirst for global dominance. Also known as the ‘21st Century Silk Road’, BRI consists of an overland corridor – ‘belt’ and maritime shipping corridor – ‘road’, connecting 71 states all over Asia, Africa and Europe. Most of these are underdeveloped and developing economies. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s grand plan is projected to cost $1 trillion, about 7.5% of China’s GDP. BRI is a global development strategy aimed primarily at infrastructural development and investment. Chinese firms have already received $340 billion+ worth of construction projects in different countries, which is roughly 1.6 times its total investment in these states. However, in reality, it has more than just economic returns for China. It provides strategic and military advantages to the Chinese. The maritime ‘road’ passes through the Gulf of Aden and the Gulf of Oman, which can be used as naval choke points to cut-off sizable international trade during a conflict. Moreover, the ports constructed by the Chinese are suspected to have dual-usage. They can be easily used by its advanced navy, facilitating the movement of its nuclear submarines and battleships. The overland ‘belt’ provides an easy trade route for Chinese goods. This is accompanied by the infrastructural development that China pushes to carry out, which will further benefit their economy. As a cherry on the cake, both these corridors surround India, China’s long-standing foe and a strong challenger to the Chinese status quo. Of late, this 2013 plan has started losing international support over its vagueness, exploiting nature and low transparency maintained by the Chinese government.
China has taken a lead in numerous projects and forums in order to maintain a ‘good impression’ and support from states. Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is another apt example of this. Its principal objective is to promote mutual cooperation, peace, security and trade. Originally, the SCO was an alliance of five countries namely China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan. It included Uzbekistan in 2001. India and Pakistan were granted the membership in 2017 at the Asthana Summit. India’s prime motive of joining the SCO was to improve its own ties with the central-Asian states and benefit from the security framework. Pakistan hopped onto the carriage with India. The common denominator of the members pre-2107 appears to be the ‘communist ideology’ and an objective of not getting influenced by the ‘western liberal democracies’. This is supplemented by the fact that the United States was rejected from being even an observer soon after SCO came into force. Apart from BRI and SCO, China has invested heavily in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and many poor African states under the tag of development and foreign aid. Chinese loans to Africa are estimated to be about $132 billion from 2006 to 2017, making China the single largest creditor nation to Africa. Sceptics call it neo-colonialism, stressing that a debt-crisis is inevitable in Africa. Nevertheless, such investment strategies have proved to be very favourable for the Chinese economy and foreign relations. China seems to enjoy friendly relations with most states which have huge growth prospects. This might prove to be an Ace card in its cat and mouse games with the US.
United States Uniting States Against China
The United States hasn’t left any rock unturned in this race for building relations with foreign states. Its massive economic influence and military strength make it logical for states to support and partner with the US. Its significance is uncontested when it comes to international arbitration and states look up to the American leadership. US cities serve as headquarters to important international organisations such as the United Nations. One such organisation is the Group of Seven (G7). As the name suggests, G7 is a group of seven states forming an intergovernmental economic organisation. The seven members are the largest advanced economies in the world namely Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. The significance of G7 lies in the fact that these seven states account for about 40% of the global GDP. Sanctions put by them could prove to be devastating for any economy. The description of the group casually excludes China, as it is still termed as a developing economy. The group was established in 1975 in the wake of the oil and energy crises. However, its composition hasn’t been constant since. It started off without Canada as G6. It was in the following year when Canada joined the group, making it G7. Russia joined the group in 1997, creating the G8. However, in light of Russia’s invasion of Crimea, it was excluded and banned from the membership in 2013. Some important organisations and states, such as the European Union, have sent their delegations to the G7 meetings as observers. Recently, US President Trump cancelled the G7 annual meeting scheduled for June 2020 in the US after German Chancellor Merkel rejected the invitation citing health concerns due to the coronavirus pandemic. Soon after, Trump’s new plan outlined hosting an expanded G7 summit including Australia, India, Russia and South Korea, making it a G11. In all probability, this was done to build an alliance against China, owing to its current hostility with the US.
This expansion of G7 into G11 is of great significance to the US. Inviting Russia seems controversial after it was banned from the group in 2013. However, it didn’t stop Trump from saying that it’s ‘common sense’ to include Russia in the meeting. Having Russia on board will strengthen the US alliance against China and at the same time, “get things done”, as Trump mentions. The US could make use of the close relation that Russia and China share for its own benefit. Russia also happens to hold a sizable stake in the BRI. Apart from that, Russia’s military might and efficiency are too large to be ignored. The expansion is also seen as a deliberate move by the US to mend its deteriorating ties with the G7 states and update the G7 to accommodate friendlier states. Handpicking Australia, India and South Korea for this is also quite interesting. Out of the three, only India features in the Top 10 economies in the world according to WEF and IMF data. Apart from being a fast-growing economy, India is the only state which has a sizable military and influence in the Asia-Pacific to challenge the Chinese. Moreover, it is a natural ally of the US and has a rocky history with China. India has called out Chinese attempts of detaching India from the rest of the world through BRI several times in multiple international forums. The recent strife in Ladakh, followed by the UN Secretary General’s statement, is representative of the souring relations between the two regional powers. Hence, India is a big asset to ‘Team Trump’. South Korea is a technological and economic powerhouse housing advanced US weaponry and is geographically very close to the Chinese mainland. Australia is a neutral US ally in the South Pacific, a region where Chinese influence has been increasing of late. Had the expansion been solely out of economic motives, Brazil, another fast-growing economy, would have definitely been included. The economic framework of the existing G7 creates incentives and growth opportunities for the proposed states to join. Additionally, this move well propagates Trump’s promise of ‘Make America Great Again’ to the US audiences. Something which is well called for in the backdrop of the upcoming US elections, where Trump has a tough fight. Therefore, undoubtedly Trump’s motive behind this expansion is not pure economic advancement but building tactical and economic superiority of the US against China with strengthening his candidature for the upcoming elections in the hindsight.
These states’ imperialistic hankering to build alliances against each other exposes their hegemonic and imprudent nature. It seems that they just want to expand their boundaries of influence and stronghold trying to make friends as close to their enemy as possible. This has led to the creation of a very unstable situation. The failure of the United Nations and other international mediating bodies to scale down the current situations, coupled with the calling off of the United Nations General Assembly 2020 session, leaves little hope for resolution of the ongoing tensions between the US and China. The provoking allegations flung at each other make the global peace increasingly volatile. Under these unchecked circumstances, the US and China will continue to strengthen their respective ‘fronts’, through the G7 and BRI and other international bodies, in this nail-biting power struggle. Now, it’s only for the future to tell what will the states gain out of all this.
Deepanshu Singal is an undergraduate student at Ashoka University with a keen interest in Economics and International Relations.