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WORLD | 22-05-2023 10:50

G7 struggles to win over nations courted by China, Russia

Heading into the G7 summit, the US and its allies knew they needed to do more to win over global swing nations also courted by China and Russia. The weekend meeting in Japan showed they face a long road ahead.

Heading into the G7 summit, the United States and its allies knew they needed to do more to win over global swing nations also courted by China and Russia. The weekend meeting in Japan showed they face a long road ahead. 

The gathering in Hiroshima, the site of the first atomic bombing in 1945, showcased the horrors of nuclear weapons following threats by Russian leader Vladimir Putin to use them in Ukraine. A surprise visit from its president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, gave him a chance to appeal to leaders from emerging economies who were also invited to the summit and have taken a neutral — and at times ambivalent — stance on the war.

Yet tangible progress was hard to see for the Group of Seven wealthy nations, even though some Western officials said the bloc was heading in the right direction compared with years past.

Three key invited guests — Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, India’s Narendra Modi and Indonesia’s Joko Widodo, who collectively oversee a quarter of the world’s population — spoke of the need for peace in general terms without endorsing the G7 view on Ukraine. 

In a press conference before departing from Hiroshima, Lula criticised  US President Joe Biden’s rhetoric toward Russia, saying it wasn’t helping peace efforts. 

The Brazilian leader insisted that he condemns Russia’s occupation of Ukraine, which he said has the right to defend its territory. But he didn’t rule out a solution to the war that includes territorial losses by Ukraine, saying neither side had viable proposals to put an end to the conflict.

“Ukraine’s proposal is capitulation by Russia, which isn’t going to accept it. Russia’s proposal is capitulation by Ukraine, which isn’t going to accept it,” he said. 

Lula said he was caught off-guard by Zelenskyy’s appearance in Hiroshima, after some of his aides described the situation as a “trap.” The two leaders didn’t meet over the weekend despite a plea from French President Emmanuel Macron, who urged Lula to understand that there is an aggressor and a victim in Ukraine, according to an Élysée official. 

Brazil publicly said that Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, affirmed that he shared the same position on the Ukraine war as Lula. Indonesia’s read-out of the Lula meeting didn’t mention Ukraine, but Jokowi — who invited Zelenskyy to participate in the Group of 20 meeting last year — separately met with the Ukraine leader and offered to serve as a “bridge of peace.” 

Modi, who is hosting the G20 summit later this year, also met with Zelenskyy for the first time and conveyed “clear support for dialogue and diplomacy to find a way forward.” But Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra, who spoke to reporters in Hiroshima, didn’t clarify whether Modi accepted Zelenskyy’s invitation to visit Ukraine, something India has resisted given Russia is a key supplier of energy and weapons.

The interactions showed the difficulty facing G7 countries as they seek to defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity against Putin in the face of a vague 12-point cease-fire proposal championed by Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russia’s top diplomatic ally. China’s effort to stop the fighting has found support among so-called Global South nations hit by higher food and fuel costs, adding pressure on the G7 to convince the world that Ukraine is worth defending.

A senior UK official saw the G7 effort as a success, saying it wasn’t realistic to expect India or Brazil to suddenly start sanctioning Russia or sending weapons to Ukraine. Still, the official said, the summit amounted to a turning point for the G7 to engage the Global South with respect and make a concerted effort to counter Russian and Chinese efforts to exploit anti-imperialist sentiment in middle-ground countries to build an alliance against the West.

A long-term goal remains convincing major emerging economies to help enforce sanctions against Russia, which is complicated as they haven’t signed up to the measures. The strategy going into the meeting was to avoid pressuring invited guests to condemn Putin and cut off economic support for Russia, and instead emphasise the need to uphold global rules like “don’t invade your neighbour” that have kept the world prosperous for decades, according to a person familiar with the situation. 

Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, told reporters in Japan that “pressure” was the “just the wrong word” to describe Biden’s interactions with Lula, Modi and other leaders. Instead, he said the goal was to emphasise the “constructive role” they can play in supporting the principle of “sovereignty and territorial integrity, which is sacrosanct in the UN Charter.”

That point was top of mind for leaders as they sought to counter China’s calls to stop the fighting, which would effectively freeze gains for Russian troops. Zelenskyy rejected that formulation in a meeting last week with Xi’s special envoy to Ukraine, and other G7 leaders underscored that any solution that didn’t involve a Russian withdrawal was a non-starter. 

“It’s not a ceasefire that is needed — it is peace,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Sunday. “And that peace can only be achieved if Russia decides to stop its ongoing invasion of a sovereign neighbour.”

While the G7 for years has been perceived to mostly lecture the Global South, this year the nations have sought to focus more on tangible and targeted offers to key countries as a top priority. A communiqué after the summit mentioned the need to deliver on pledges to mobilise US$600 billion in quality infrastructure for developing nations and US$100 billion annually in financing to mitigate the risks of climate change, as well as efforts to reform multilateral development banks and address debt vulnerability.

by Samy Adghirni, Brian Platt & Alex Wickham, Bloomberg

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