The major headline from this year’s G7 summit in Hiroshima was the appearance of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his push to end Russia’s war on his country. But another G7 concern, China, also featured prominently at the summit. While this year’s G7 leaders’ communique featured some more moderate language on China than last year’s, it also focused heavily on economic coercion, condemning a “disturbing rise” of the “weaponization of economic vulnerabilities” — a not too subtle jab at China’s economic statecraft. Still, even as U.S.-China relations remain tense, this year’s discussion of constructive engagement represents a shift more aligned with European and Japanese stances on how to deal with the challenges posed by China.
USIP’s Mirna Galic looks at how China was discussed at the summit and how Beijing has responded.
How did China factor in discussions at the G7 summit?
China is an element behind many references in the G-7 Hiroshima Leaders’ Communique, including non-market policies and practices, foreign information manipulation and interference, economic resilience and security, and economic coercion, but China is only addressed directly in the section on regional affairs. Here, the G7 countries focus on a range of shared concerns about China that are consistent with the previous year’s G7 leaders’ communique, including Chinese actions in the East and South China Seas, opposition to unilateral changes to the status quo by force or coercion, human rights issues within China, China’s response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, and “interference activities aimed at undermining the security and safety of our communities, the integrity of our democratic institutions and our economic prosperity.” The last topic is explored in recent testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
The language also focuses on engagement with China, however, including cooperation in areas such as climate change, conservation of natural resources, addressing debt sustainability and financing needs in vulnerable countries, and global health. G7 leaders additionally noted their readiness “to build constructive and stable relations with China,” as well as the idea that “a growing China that plays by international rules would be of global interest.” Moreover, they emphasized that “our policy approaches are not designed to harm China nor do we seek to thwart China’s economic progress and development,” responding to an often-raised contention from Beijing that the economic criticisms and concerns of the United States and its partners vis-à-vis China are really about trying to hold back China’s development.
Was there any shift in tone on China from recent G7 summits?
Although references to cooperation with China were also included in the previous year’s communique, the language on more constructive engagement with China was not. This change from the previous year is more consistent with European as well as Japanese views and also reflects a shifting U.S. tone. Indeed, at the conclusion of the summit, U.S. President Joe Biden said he expected to see a thaw in U.S.-relations, following a ratcheting up of tensions earlier this year.
Another European tagline in the document is the reference to economic “de-risking” rather than “decoupling”: “We are not decoupling or turning inwards. At the same time, we recognize that economic resilience requires de-risking and diversifying.” De-risking implies a narrower focus on sectors that impact national security, broadly defined, rather than economic relations as a whole, while diversifying suggests not relying on a single country like China for important goods.
This terminology featured prominently in a March speech by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on the European Union’s position on China, and sits much better with European as well as regional partners, given extensive economic ties with China, which is the top trading partner for Japan and the European Union, as well as non-G7 invitees Australia, Indonesia, South Korea and Vietnam. A change to the term de-risking is also consistent with moves under the Biden administration to qualify and flesh out decoupling rhetoric and coordinate better in this area with allies and partners.
The take-home message here is to underscore areas of alignment and coherence between the United States and its allies and partners in their approach to China, which is a signal to both China and Europe. In this regard, another area of coordination in policies related to China that received a lot of press coverage was economic coercion, which refers to using economic leverage to try to coerce a state into changing its policies. G7 leaders agreed to “increase our collective assessment, preparedness, deterrence and response to economic coercion,” including through the establishment of a Coordination Platform on Economic Coercion. Although the leaders’ communique did not mention China with respect to economic coercion, a separate G7 Leaders’ Statement on economic security noted “attempts to weaponize economic dependencies by forcing G7 members and our partners including small economies to comply and conform,” akin to China’s punitive economic measures against Australia in 2020 and those aimed at South Korea after Seoul’s agreement to install a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system in 2016. Economic coercion concerns also apply to Russia, however, with energy supplies a noted example.
How did China react to the G7 Summit?
As the G7 meeting took place, China held its own concurrent summit with the leaders of Central Asia’s five states, which the Western press portrayed as Beijing’s effort to counterbalance the G7. However, Beijing’s objectives for the Central Asia summit were likely more about advancing its campaign for a new type of global security and expanding its economic engagements in the region.
Despite the presence of moderate language on China and the shift away from decoupling terminology, the communique’s references to areas China considers core national interests and internal affairs — such as Taiwan and human rights in Xinjiang and Tibet — led to harsh criticism from Beijing. In response, Beijing rebuked G7 host Japan as well as other members. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also issued a statement expressing Beijing’s displeasure and urging G7 members to “to catch up with the trend of the times, focus on addressing the various issues they have at home, stop ganging up to form exclusive blocs, stop containing and bludgeoning other countries, stop creating and stoking bloc confrontation and get back to the right path of dialogue and cooperation.” Interestingly, in the statement, Beijing also counter-accuses the United States of economic coercion, noting, “the massive unilateral sanctions and acts of ‘decoupling’ and disrupting industrial and supply chains make the [U.S.] the real coercer that politicizes and weaponizes economic and trade relations. We urge the G7 not to become an accomplice in economic coercion.”