The Group of Seven rich countries needs a stronger pitch to non-aligned nations. A strategy based on peace, prosperity and protecting the planet could work. It would certainly be more effective than delivering lectures on democracy.
Leaders of the world’s rich democracies, who gather later this week in Hiroshima, already have a lot on their plate dealing with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, higher inflation, and the rising challenge from China. Nevertheless Japan, which is hosting the summit, has made “outreach to the global South” one of the gathering’s two priorities along with “upholding the international order based on the rule of law”. This makes sense, partly because the topics are linked.
Many developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America have largely stayed on the sidelines during the Ukraine war, even if they initially condemned Russia’s invasion. They are unlikely to impose sanctions on China following an invasion of Taiwan, let alone join any military action to defend the island. But if more developing countries spoke up to condemn violations of international law, the People’s Republic might be more reluctant to contemplate aggression against Taipei.
Another reason to care about developing countries is that their actions will help determine whether the planet fries. If nations like India switch to a greener model of growth, climate change may not reach catastrophic levels. If not, the whole world will suffer. Even rich democracies in temperate regions will feel the consequences, mainly in the form of mass migration unlike anything they have yet experienced.
Non-aligned nations are also important economically. Many have grown rapidly and still have huge potential to develop. Countries like Brazil are sources of vital raw materials that will be needed to sustain a global green industrial revolution. Others, such as Nigeria, are still needed to produce hydrocarbons. Meanwhile the likes of Vietnam can help the developed world diversify its supply chains to reduce its dependence on China, which currently dominates key products such as batteries and solar panels.
The rich democracies’ goal should not be to pull the global South into their camp in advance of a possible clash with China. Rather it should be to ensure that non-aligned countries remain genuinely neutral, instead of aligning themselves with Beijing. There are three areas where the developed world could have something to offer. Call them the “three P’s”: peace, prosperity, and the planet.
Start with peace. When it comes to opposing military aggression, the United States has limited credibility because of its calamitous invasion of Iraq. The United Kingdom is also compromised, both because of its involvement in Iraq and its intervention in Libya, for which France shares responsibility.
Even so, rich countries could do more to confront aggression via the United Nations. This is sometimes hard given that both Russia and China can veto critical resolutions at the Security Council. But the United States and its allies could do more to empower the UN General Assembly, where all countries have a vote – and none has a veto.
When it comes to promoting prosperity, rich democracies are similarly vulnerable to accusations of double standards. The United States is the main culprit. Both President Joe Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump took measures to protect US jobs at the expense of foreign trade, most recently via the climate-focused Inflation Reduction Act.
If the G7 nations want good relations with developing countries, the most important thing they can do is promote trade. This should include following through on promises to locate production in friendlier nations such as India to avoid overdependence on China. Promoting imports risks a backlash from voters at home. That’s why rich countries also need ambitious policies to help those who lose out from globalisation.
Finally, there’s protecting the planet. Rich democracies already have a range of initiatives to help developing nations go green fast. They have signed so-called Just Energy Transition Partnerships with countries such as Indonesia; promised a $600 billion infrastructure splurge to rival China’s $1 trillion Belt and Road Initiative; and advocated further reform of multilateral development banks so that they do more to tackle issues such as climate change.
The snag is that the G7 hasn’t articulated a joined-up vision of what it is seeking to achieve on climate change. Nor has it provided much hard cash. Given the continued failure of rich countries, especially the United States, to deliver an old promise to mobilise $100 billion a year for climate change in developing countries, nations in the global South are understandably sceptical. Wealthier countries now need to find creative ways of providing finance, even as domestic budgets are squeezed.
DEMOCRACY VS AUTOCRACY
Joe Biden says the contest between democracies and autocracies is the defining challenge of our time. This is simplistic. It’s true that the United States’ key rivals – China and Russia – are autocracies while its core allies are all democracies. But many non-aligned nations are either autocracies such as Saudi Arabia, or imperfect democracies such as India.
The G7 needs to work with all of these countries to advance its priorities. Focusing on democracy irritates many of them. As one developing world observer told former US Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers: “When we’re engaged with the Chinese, we get an airport. And when we’re engaged with you guys, we get a lecture.”
It would be better for the United States and its core allies to say that the defining challenge of our era is whether countries invade one another or stick to the rule of law.
This is not to say that rich democracies should ignore human rights abuses by friendly nations. They can work more closely to promote peace, prosperity and the protection of the planet with countries that share their values. But that’s more a statement of fact than a lecture. — Reuters
Hugo Dixon is Commentator-at-Large for Reuters. He was the founding chair and editor-in-chief of Breakingviews.