From G7 to D11
Carbis Bay was more about creating a US-led anti-Chinese alliance than vaccinating the world or saving the planet, maintains Eddie Ford
Before the G7 dignities came to Cornwall, the Financial Times rather dramatically declared that the summit was “the west’s last chance to lead” (June 7). Boris Johnson would get the opportunity to “counteract any lingering impression that he is a cynical lightweight” more interested in cheap slogans like “Global Britain” than providing real leadership, and the G7 countries must take “bold initiatives” on climate and Covid - like donating more vaccines to the developing world before they have achieved near-complete vaccination at home.
Given these criteria, we can only assume that the FT leader writer must be feeling disappointed. The G7’s final communiqué triggered a chorus of criticism from ecological campaigners, anti-poverty groups and many others - rightly angered by the fact the rich nations’ club failed to match the scale of the challenges facing the world. Rather, for all the hype, it seemed more or less business as usual. No early timetable to eradicate coal-fired emissions. No green Marshall Plan that some reports had trailed. No ambitious plan to vaccinate the world. Boris Johnson failed to shed his image of a buffoon and chancer. Nothing but a complete mismatch between words and deeds.
You could argue that, even on its own terms, the G7 club of ‘imperialist democracies’ is an outdated or anachronistic institution, whose purpose has become increasingly unclear over the years. The core seven countries (the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada) first met in the 1970s and when the Soviet bureaucracy imploded, the Russian Federation was invited to join the club as a sort of reward. But the RF was booted out after it annexed Crimea in 2014, which the western media unanimously portrayed - showing its usual lack of historical imagination - as a sinister example of Russian revanchism akin to Hitler and the Munich agreement - a notion which too many on the left stupidly bought into.
Today the G7 represents a declining share of the world economy. In the 1970s the G7 nations accounted for some 80% of the world gross domestic product, but that is now down to about 40%. When the global financial crisis struck in 2008, the Bush administration convened the first ever G20 summit to deal with the emergency. Membership of the G20 consists of 19 individual countries (such as China, Russia, Brazil, India, South Africa) plus the European Union, which is represented by the European Commission and by the European Central Bank - telling you a lot. For some, the success of the G20 in organising concerted international action to avert a complete global meltdown seemed to confirm that the G7’s moment had passed - it was too small. What was the point of it? There was even speculation that the group might never meet again, with Donald Trump pouring endless derision upon it. But, as Joe Biden said in a press conference following the Cornish summit, America is “back at the table” - signalling his determination to push back against Moscow and especially Beijing. For the Biden administration, the necessity of creating a US-led anti-Chinese alliance gives the G7 a renewed reason to exist - it has a purpose again.
Anyway, what were the key pledges? The G7 committed over the next 12 months to secure a further one billion vaccines, with half of that coming from the US and 100 million from Britain. The US has already donated $2 billion (£1.4 billion) to Covax, the UN-backed scheme charged with distributing vaccines, and in February, the Biden administration pledged $2 billion more. But the donation is far short of the number of shots needed to fully vaccinate poorer nations. Moreover, the plan does not address distribution gaps that could make it difficult to deliver doses, nor is there any timetable to act. In fact, when analysed closer, many of the ‘commitments’ were not new.
And the whole issue of intellectual property waivers was totally fudged, despite demands from 100 poorer countries for precisely such a deal that would transfer vaccine technology to them. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organisation, was not impressed by the vaccine pledge. To truly end the pandemic, he said, 11 billion doses are needed to vaccinate 70% of the world’s population by mid-2022 - “We need more and we need them faster.”
For example, less than 1% of sub-Saharan Africa has been fully vaccinated. With a population of 1.3 billion, Africa as a whole has received just 41 million of the 2.5 billion ordered doses. At this rate, says Unicef, it could be 2024 before western levels of vaccination are reached, if at all - a disastrous situation. The G7 also failed to make a clear decision on the use of $100 billion from the International Monetary Fund’s reserves to help boost supplies and reduce the borrowing costs of vulnerable countries. The summit did not spell out the terms and conditions of this, begging the question of whether the poorer countries would actually benefit from such a scheme.
So much for Boris Johnson’s pre-summit promise to “vaccinate the entire world” - just the usual bluster and empty boosterism. He cannot even deal with the virus at home, never mind the world, as shown by the postponing of ‘Freedom Day’ and the continued spread of the ‘Johnson variant’ - with some scientists warning of 40,000 possible deaths in the summer.1
As for climate change, the G7 agreed to “step up action” and renewed a previous pledge - from 2009 - to raise $100 billion a year by 2020 to help the poorer countries move away from coal and cut emissions. “We commit to … halving our collective emissions over the two decades to 2030, increasing and improving climate finance to 2025 and to conserve or protect at least 30% of our land and oceans by 2030,” read the communiqué. But, once again, these vague ‘promises’ lacked any details and firm cash commitments were missing. With the rich nations refusing to put their money where their mouth is, you do not have to be Nostradamus to suspect that the $100 billion a year by 2025 will never materialise either.
The G7 leaders go on to say in the communiqué that they will work together to challenge China’s “non-market economic practices” and to call on Beijing to “respect human rights” in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. When it comes to the latter, that means those “rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy”, as enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law. Additionally, the G7 underscored “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait” and called for “the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues”. They also called for a “timely, transparent, expert-led and science-based” investigation into the causes of Covid, convened by the World Health Organisation and including China - which seems like an attempt to keep alive the dubious theory that Covid-19 originated in a Wuhan lab.
In a statement, the White House declared that the US and G7 “remain deeply concerned by the use of all forms of forced labour in global supply chains, including state-sponsored forced labour of vulnerable groups and minorities and supply chains of the agricultural, solar and garment sectors - the main supply chains of concern in Xinjiang”. This needs to be understood in the context of a coordinated propaganda campaign by the US and its satraps trying to convince us that the Chinese state is committing ‘genocide’ against the Uyghurs - a blatantly false claim. Indeed, by any rational standards, it is crazy.
It is fair to say that Boris Johnson did not have a good summit - dogged throughout by the never-ending issue of Brexit and the Northern Ireland protocol. He made a pretence at gravitas by signing a new US-UK Atlantic charter, modelled on the historic statement made by Churchill and Roosevelt on the post-war world order - a silly stunt which fell flat. In another attempt to put his stamp on the conference, Johnson invited the leaders of Australia, South Korea, South Africa and India to participate in the G7 so as build a “D11” alliance of capitalist democracies, mainly directed against China. But it had no real impact, even if bashing China was the only consistent thread to the summit.
Frustratingly for the British prime minister, what many people will probably remember the most is the spat with the French president over the status of Northern Ireland. The Daily Telegraph reported that Johnson had tried to explain his frustration over the current impasse regarding the protocol by asking Emmanuel Macron what he would do if sausages from Toulouse could not be moved to Paris. He replied by saying that the comparison did not work because Paris and Toulouse were both part of the same country - the obvious inference being that Northern Ireland was not part of United Kingdom. Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, described such a suggestion as “offensive” and Boris Johnson brusquely remarked that he needed EU leaders to “get it into their heads” that “the UK is a single country, a single territory”.
The background to the dispute, as most readers will know, is that from the end of this month a grace period on an EU prohibition on the sale of chilled meats (including sausages) imported from outside the bloc is due to come to end as part of the protocol - primarily designed to get round the contradictions of Brexit and prevent the restoration of a hard border on the island of Ireland. Naturally, the press love to call this the “sausage war”. The EU is also extremely unhappy that the UK has not met its promises to implement checks on goods entering Northern Ireland, which is clearly set out in the protocol.
Last week, Johnson insisted he would do “whatever it takes” to protect Northern Ireland’s status within the UK - like unilaterally extending the grace period or invoking article 16 to suspend the protocol altogether. There is little doubt that the EU would retaliate swiftly to such action, launching a possible trade war by slapping tariffs on various products. Crucially, the Biden administration is essentially taking the side of the EU - worried that any unilateral action by the British government would inflame tensions and endanger the US-brokered Good Friday agreement. More generally, the White House views Brexit as a folly from beginning to end - rendering the UK a less useful asset than it used to be.
But Macron’s comment touches upon a truth. Is Belfast British like Birmingham, Bristol or London? Boris Johnson cannot forever duck responsibility for implementing a hard Brexit and then signing an agreement that puts a regulatory border right down the Irish Sea, effectively separating Northern Ireland from the British mainland.