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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 28, New Delhi, June 26, 2021

G-7 and NATO Summits: Challenges in containing China | P. S. Jayaramu

Friday 25 June 2021


by P. S. Jayaramu

The assumption of power by Joe Biden as President of the United States in January this year led to global debates about renewed American attempts at the containment of China. Biden was preoccupied for the first hundred days in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, the effect of which is seen in the massive nation wide vaccination drive resulting in nearly 45 percent of the US citizens being vaccinated in record time, hoping to achieve the target of 70 percent by July 4th when America celebrates its independence day.

With the pandemic on a retreat, President Biden has embarked on his project of containing China globally. What a transformation for a country which in the early 1970s used China to contain the USSR as part of its Cold War strategy. With the ending of the Cold War and the disintegration of the USSR in 1990, successive US Governments went about befriending China in a big way, little realising that China would pose challenges economically and militarily to itself. The globalisation phase of international politics led to a competitive engagement of the Western nations with China in trade, investment and technological fields. China too, on its part, made it a mission to engage with the West and the broader Third World in pursuit of its goal of replacing the Soviet Union as a competitor to the United States in international affairs. Needless to say, China’s growing economic and military power facilitated over the years a near achievement of its foreign policy objective of becoming the number one rival to the US in military-strategic terms.

It is against the above stated context that we need to understand the Biden Administration’s goal and strategy of containment of China. The focus here is on the two summits that took place recently, the G-7 summit at Carbis Bay and the NATO summit at Brussels.

Let me first deal with the resolutions and the communique of the G-7meeting. The summit was held in the background of the determination of the industrialised nations to beat Covid-19 and ‘build back a better world’. Referring to the need for collaboration and commitment to multilateralism, the leaders at the summit agreed for a shared G-7 agenda for global action to: 1. End the pandemic and prepare the world for global health system by supporting science for treating of the future variants of the virus. 2. Reinvigorate economies by advancing recovery plans that build on the 12 trillion dollars support that the western nations have put forward during the pandemic. 3. Secure future prosperity by freer and fairer trade among themselves. 4.protect the planet by supporting a green revolution that creates jobs, cuts emissions and seek to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees. 5. Strengthen partnership with others around the world. 6. Pursue values of democracy, freedom, equality, rule of law and respect for human values.

The G-7 leaders invited Australia, India, South Korea and South Africa to the summit with their declared goal of working with open societies to demonstrate their commitment to democracy and human rights. From the US perspective, the objective was to reiterate that ‘America is back’ and ready to lead the world. The most note worthy part of the communique issued at the end of the summit was the several references to Chinese misdemeanours like unilateral attempts to change the status quo and increase tensions in the East and South China Seas and human rights violations in Xingjiang, and Hong Kong. On its part, China saw the G-7 communique as provocative and dismissed it saying a self styled group of countries cannot dictate terms to it, much less rule the world!

While the effort to revive the G-7 is laudable keeping in mind the imperative for bringing together democracies to strike at the roots of authoritarianism regimes, given the nature of the complex and interdependent world nations inhibit and the varying national interests they pursue, it is unrealistic to believe that the G-7’s call for a united fight against China will easily fructify. With many in the G-7, having developed vast networks of collaboration and cooperation with China in the fields of trade and technology, the American project of containment of China is bound to face challenges at the implementation level. As for the G-20 nations, many of them are dependent on China economically and militarily, which would come in the way of their going along with the US in realising its goals vis-a-vis China.

The other equally important meeting that took place, which merits analysis is the NATO summit at Brussels. The communique made a reference to the Heads of State/Governments of 30 allies ‘to reaffirm their unity, solidarity and cohesion to open a new chapter in transatlantic relations at a time when the security environment they face has become increasingly complex’. Lofty references were made to Article 5 of the treaty which calls for ‘seeing an attack against one as an attack against all’, calling for a 360 degree approach to protect and defend their common security. The communique also referred to the systemic competition from assertive and authoritarian powers, including what it described as Russia’s aggressive actions constituting a threat to Euro-Atlantic security. References were made to terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and cyber threats posing a persistent threat to the NATO allies. Finally, it made a reference to the NATO 2030 agenda of facilitating political and military adaptation to meet the challenges.

Here again, it is important to view the Biden Administration’s increased emphasis on the need for reinvigorating the NATO alliance against the background of the member nations’ perception of threats from China and Russia. The German Chancellor was quick to point out that her nation does not foresee the emergence of a new Cold War. Individually, NATO partners have not only established but are building on a mutually beneficial economic and trade relationship with China.They do not want relations to suffer at the altar of a perceived Cold War rivalry with China. As for Russia, the perception of a military-strategic challenge is remote for the West. Such being the case, notwithstanding American pressures, its west-European partners are inclined to believe that diplomatic, and non-military methods are realistic options before them in dealing with Russia, though they would continue to adhere to the NATO requirements as allies.

President Biden rounded off his European tour with a summit meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin at Geneva. There was no bonhomie as is evident from the way they avoided seeing each other directly during their handshake and the photo opp with the media. Biden described the summit as a meeting between ‘two great powers’, though the number of hours they were scheduled to meet was reduced. Putin said after the summit that there was no hostility during the talks! Putin also announced that that the two sides agreed to consult each other on cyber security issues. With the intention of lowering tensions and bringing back a measure of normalcy in bilateral relations, the two leaders decided to ask ambassadors to return to their posts.

In conclusion, it appears that the G-7 and NATO summit declarations/communiques apart, political realism will drive members of both the groups to proceed cautiously in their dealings with China, while at the same time playing an active role in both the forums. It remains to be seen whether Biden Administration will bring in any new armours within its diplomatic tool kit to mount a collective counter to the menacingly belligerent China, bent on expanding its domination over the world.

(Author: Dr. P. S. Jayaramu is former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi.)

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