London brought together G7 foreign ministers for the first face-to-face meeting in two years to agree on joint responses to global threats and recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. The meeting laid the groundwork for the leaders' summit in Cornwall in June. Representatives of the group's members - the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the European Union - began dialogue sessions in the face of growing "challenges and threats", in a direct reference to Russia and China, which they identify as among the main threats to the global order.
The United Kingdom has sought to use its presidency of the G7 to raise its international profile, in any case, since its exit from the European Union, with this three-day pre-meeting in London, which is also being attended by the heads of India, Australia, South Africa and South Korea, a gesture that underlines the geopolitical importance that the Indo-Pacific region has taken on.
The G7 leaders at the summit underlined the need for a common stance to address global threats, in contrast to the growing unilateralism of recent years and the retreat of global institutions. The withdrawal from Afghanistan, relations with Iran, the future of NATO, the war in Syria and the actions of the military regime are some of the issues on the table at the G7 meeting, with the post-COVID recovery as a backdrop, and with Russia and China as the main protagonists.
The meeting took place against a backdrop of growing pressure to show more solidarity. The spread of the virus has also exacerbated gender inequalities, stressed the group's representatives, who agreed on measures to fund initiatives to facilitate women's entry into the workforce, as well as to improve education for 40 million girls over the next five years.
However, there was no announcement on new funding to improve access to vaccines, despite repeated calls for the G7 to do more to help the poorest countries. Activists have urged the G7 to redouble its efforts to address glaring inequalities in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, as Western countries step up vaccination campaigns and reopen their economies. Recovery from the coronavirus pandemic requires more than ever preserving the current system of international rules, the G7 foreign ministers stressed in the conclusions.
The G7 foreign ministers reserved their harshest criticism for China and Russia, calling on them to comply with their obligations under national and international law. Two countries with which there are shared interests, but which pose significant security challenges.
Relations between China and the US deteriorated dramatically during the era of former president Donald Trump, with friction in areas such as trade, diplomacy and technology, and although Biden has promised a different approach, his government does not seem to be in a hurry to put an end to its conflicts with Beijing. Right at the start of this meeting, one of the first since Joe Biden's arrival at the White House, US Secretary of State Tony Blinken wasted no time in openly accusing Beijing of cyber-attacks, of violating the rights of the Muslim minority in Xinjiang province, of Hong Kong city dwellers and Taiwan, and about Beijing's practices that run counter to "free and fair economic systems", particularly in the fields of "trade, investment and development finance", as well as its support for "intellectual property theft".
Against this background, both China and Russia have decided to join forces and form a common front against Western sanctions. After two days of meetings, and at such a turbulent time for international diplomacy, the erosion of human rights in Russia is also at the forefront of the concerns of the countries in the group, which criticise the "systematic repression of opposition voices", activists, members of "independent" civil society and journalists. They also condemn Moscow's "irresponsible" and "destabilising" actions on the border with Ukraine, as well as the Russian government's "malicious actions" to try to destabilise third countries and its use of "disinformation".
Efforts to demilitarise Libya and the December elections in that country are also at the centre of the ministers' attention, as well as the situation in Syria and its neighbouring countries. In this regard, the G7 ministers aim to press Russia on humanitarian assistance in the region.
During the first day of the meeting in London, Borrell and Blinken discussed the Iran nuclear deal in a bilateral meeting on the margins of the G7 ministerial summit. The two diplomats discussed ways to ensure "full and effective implementation" of the agreement. The two ministers spoke of their shared interest in securing the release of their nationals imprisoned in Iran, with special mention of Iranian-British citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, after five years in prison on charges of espionage.
In addition to China, Russia and Iran, the foreign ministers threatened Burma's coup junta with new sanctions on Burma, with diplomats meeting in London expected in their conclusions to urge the military regime that has taken control of the country to cease its activity. During the day, measures to control arms flows and limit the ruling junta's financial flows were discussed.
The seven powers did, however, leave the door open to future cooperation and stressed the need for a common stance to address global challenges, in contrast to the growing unilateralism of recent years under Donald Trump in the United States.