Donald Trump’s decisions on May 30th regarding the G7 summit are remarkable. As a bundle of separate decisions, they do not reflect a strategy nor are they consistent or even coherent.
First, attempting to hold a live G7 summit with all the thousands of officials and media involved uncovers his attempt to use the summit as evidence of America open for business, which is premature at best, and highly manipulative, at worst.
German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, called his bluff, by refusing to accept the invitation based on the coronavirus.
Second, Trump announced that he would invite Russia back into the G7, to restore the G8 of old, without consulting the other six members of the G7. An appalling lack of respect for the other G7 leaders, from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom.
Third, he invited Australia, India and South Korea as fellow democracies to the postponed G7 summit to discuss “China”.
This combination of decisions represent a pattern of decision-making that triggers a set of contradictory forces that keep other players off balance and the disrupter at the center of the game.
While some coordination of forward thinking on China with Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia and South Korea would make sense, jumping into a leaders-level discussion this month under the glare of the media spotlight without adequate preparation smacks of theater rather than good governance.
Clearly, no thought has been given to how a conversation about China would go with Russian President, Vladimir Putin in the room at Trump’s invitation. Putin would oppose US handling of the Hong Kong crisis. Putin would undermine any adversarial actions against China as an authoritarian regime. And, Putin would be a force to contend with as a participant in any discussion with Donald Trump, whom he would challenge, and with some effect.
Prime Minister Modi of India would be more likely to side with Putin than with Trump as India has often used Russia to offset the influence of China in South Asia. Furthermore, the Europeans are dealing with China in very different ways, each from the other and from the United States. Canada has its own challenges with China to deal with. South Korea and Japan have a tough history of tensions between them, and would not necessarily be comfortable confronting China together in public.
These complexities are real. They escape the grasp of Donald Trump’s disruptive attempt to jump to simplistic adversarial solutions and to put on a show of “us-versus-them” dynamics rather than guide the nation, much less the world, toward better futures.
They raise issues of how to move forward in an excruciating global moment defined by not only the COVID-19 pandemic but by the social fissures it reveals and that need to be addressed urgently by national leaders in their own countries. The social challenges now have primacy over global issues.
But, clearly, global cooperation and coordination is vital to dealing with global health and economic recovery in ways which generate greater social cohesion.
The G20 is a better mechanism for dealing with this set of challenges than the G7, but the response by the G20 leaders so far has been less than adequate.
The key to moving forward in concert is reframing China-West relations in a way that transitions away from the toxic bilateral US-China relationship to a capacity by other G20 leaders to engage constructively and seriously with China in forging new pathways forward with people and planet centered policies in health, in economics and finance, in energy, in infrastructure and in the human capital investment in the new technology era.
Investment in the social order would buttress the foundations of the global order because social inclusion lessens nationalist resentment by those left out. But the global order now must facilitate the realignment of economic policies to strengthen the social order. Shifts in politics and policies for the social order and the global order must reinforce each other to move humanity from tragedy to transformation.
It is hard to see how any of this agenda will be forthcoming from the postponed G7 plus 4 with the kind of frictions among leading nations and social fissures within them. The G20 summit in Italy in 2021 looks like a prime moment to forge new beginnings in domestic policies, in global coordination, and in global governance.