Last week, the United Kingdom (UK) hosted the Group of Seven’s (G7) Foreign and Development Ministers’ Meeting, which comes as a precursor to next month’s G7 Leaders’ Summit. The meeting – marking the G7’s first in-person gathering in two years – represented a significant development for the world’s foremost industrialised powers to engage in face-to-face diplomacy. It was also a critical opportunity for the largest and most advanced free and open countries to send a political statement of solidarity vis-à-vis shared threats.
Following a year of debate over the G7’s expansion, the UK, as president of the G7, invited India, Australia, South Korea, South Africa, Brunei (as the current Chair of the ASEAN) to participate as ‘special invitees’. This allows G7 to shed the tag of being ‘outdated’ and creates an informal Group of Ten/Eleven (G10/11) – or a Democratic Ten/Eleven (D10/11) consultative mechanism – which could form a vital democratic caucus in the new era, that the forthcoming June G7 Leaders’ Summit intends to promote. The D10/11 has already been mooted as a means to break free of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) influence over fifth-generation telecommunications technology. Indeed, this proposal may have already been surpassed by President Biden’s ‘Summit for Democracy’ and talks regarding the formal expansion of the G7.
In this sense, the recent meeting of G7 foreign ministers exemplified what an expanded group could look like and how it could initiate a response to shared challenges. Notably, the meeting witnessed the G7 countries harmonising their focus on the Indo-Pacific and the region’s emerging centrality as the group’s focus, synergising with India’s international outlook, and complimenting a ‘Quadrilateral Security Dialogue Plus’ format. Further, amidst an emphasis on ‘strengthened G7-Africa partnerships and greater engagement in the Indo-Pacific’ for ‘global cooperation’, containing the PRC served as a prominent part of the agenda.
The G7 ministerial housed a broad-based agenda covering a plethora of global security threats in – and from – countries such as Russia, the PRC, Myanmar and Yemen. It also involved dialogue on a sustainable recovery from Covid-19, continental partnerships, and social challenges like media freedom and education. The primary discussion points in the G7 gathering were similar to the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue Leadership Summit’s (QLS) focal areas of consultation: the PRC; Covid-19, and the global vaccination drive; the security and stability of the Indo-Pacific; supply chain restructuring; and reliable technological- and climate change-driven outlooks.
To this effect, the UK and EU joined the call to create a rules-based international order and maintain open maritime communication lines in the region. The focus on an open maritime order was highlighted in the G7 communiqué. It underscored concerns regarding the tense situation in the East and South China seas while supporting the United National Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 tribunal ruling to resolve Indo-Pacific disputes peacefully. This demonstrated British continuity to participate in Indo-Pacific affairs proactively, not least after the India-UK bilateral virtual summit, where Britain undertook a strategic and pragmatic shift on issues pertaining to trade, investment ventures, and the Indo-Pacific. In this context, the EU’s call to delay its trade and investment agreement with China (for now), too, accentuated coordination and complementarity within the G7, marking the EU as an important potential ally within the emerging Indo-Pacific architecture.
The G7 meeting was also instrumental in persuading the US and EU to grant an Intellectual Property Right (IPR) waiver for Covid-19 vaccines. This particular development has been significant and was long advocated by India and South Africa – despite US-EU reservations – for ensuring global availability and affordability of medical products essential to combat Covid-19. Its adoption under the G7 format indicates India’s increasing sway in the grouping, and New Delhi’s diplomatic commitment to pursuing its foreign policy interests. More importantly, the IPR waiver also comes as a crucial step to attain the G7’s central goal of laying the groundwork for building dependable supply chains and technologies to counter conceivable infection waves.
The G7 complements its growing focus on the Indo-Pacific by emphasising the importance of resilient and dependable global supply chains and pursuing technological innovations and development. The post-Covid-19 geoeconomic landscape has witnessed countries focusing on enhancing the resiliency of their value chains, primarily by reducing unsustainable over-dependence on the PRC.
In the Indo-Pacific, this objective has been central to not only the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, but also within new frameworks such as the India-Japan-Australia-led Supply Chain Resilience initiative (SCRI) – formally launched on 27th April 2021. The trilateral leadership of the SCRI offers the G7 an opportunity to interact within the forum to share best practices and participate in ‘buyer-seller’ events under the SCRI’s umbrella in the Indo-Pacific. Consequently, coordinating with the G7 on supply chain resilience offers the SCRI an opportunity to extend its own outreach to Africa, Europe and the West in the future. The G7’s focus on supply chain resiliency follows in this direction. It marks a crucial step in bringing together the world’s most advanced large economies and ‘like-minded’ nations to coordinate actions to ensure that no single state can practice complete authority over critical supply chains in future emergency scenarios.
Within this focus, India is a crucial partner for the G7 due to its growing status as a manufacturing hub. India’s national initiatives – such as the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India) – aim to boost India’s production industry, offering, in turn, an ideal and competitive alternative to the PRC. India has already extended the PLI to cover white goods, domestically manufactured solar power modules (allowing for a link between PLI and G7 on the renewable energy and climate efficacy front) and the food processing industry.
The extended scheme is expected to facilitate increased investment and strengthen Atmanirbhar Bharat by making Indian manufacturing more globally competitive. New Delhi has also emphasised making industry more ecologically sustainable with its explicit statement at the G7 indicating it was open to green objective targets as long as the developed world kept its green assets window open. Considering the G7’s commitment to a ‘green, inclusive and sustainable’ recovery from Covid-19, significant potential exists for India-G7 synergy in the green growth domain.
In essence, the G7 Foreign Ministers’ consultations marked the G7’s return to the international arena and set the stage for the upcoming Leaders’ Summit. Importantly, through widening the focus and participation, the UK laid the groundwork for the institutionalisation of an expanded G7, though a real consensus is yet to arrive on the issue. For India, which has recently built on its security partnerships with select countries under a ‘pointed alignment’ strategy, an evolving and expanding G7 holds immense potential in tandem with the changing times.
Not only does it give India a seat at the table with the world’s most economically advanced democracies, but it also provides a critical platform to promote Indian interests and forge a greater connection with developing and developed economies. In sum, an expanded G7 with India furthers New Delhi’s quest for an identity as a global power in making. It bolsters India’s international standing and helps the country push back against the PRC’s belligerence in the Indo-Pacific.
Dr Jagannath Panda is a Research Fellow and Centre Coordinator for East Asia at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Dr Panda is Series Editor for Routledge Studies on Think Asia.
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