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Foreign Policy

The G7 and the Decline of Western Influence

Apr 28, 2023
  • Li Yan

    Deputy Director of Institute of American Studies, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations

The G7 foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the United States, along with the high representative of the European Union, met recently in Nagano, Japan, to prepare for the upcoming Hiroshima Summit in May. The meeting’s agenda and statements from the participants offered insight into what the summit has in store.

Upon reviewing the G7 schedule and joint communique, three prominent features were evident:

First of all, the seven countries were trying their best to boost “unity” in the face of international changes. During a news conference afterward, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said the strength of solidarity among G7 foreign ministers had reached an unprecedented level. The communique built on “a strong sense of unity” and explained the common positions of the seven countries in the face of “grave threats to the international system.”

Second, the topics under discussion are complex. The communique listed 24 issues on “peace and security,” including not only traditional geopolitical issues, such as the Ukrainian crisis, Indo-Pacific security, North Korea and Iran but also cooperation between the G7 and developing countries, economic security, development finance, food security, outer space and cybersecurity. In addition, the G7 Ministers’ Meeting on Climate, Energy and Environment, which was held simultaneously, also reached consensus on accelerating the phase-out of fossil fuels.

Third, the meeting was marked by a strong ideological tone. The so-called “free and open international order based on the rule of law” was a theme once again emphasized by the participants. The communique also expressed “concerns” on many issues related to China in language that reeked of ideological prejudice and anti-China sentiment.

The G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting showed not only the eagerness of developed Western countries to shape the international situation but also the participants’ growing inclination to form an exclusive clique and transform the G7 into a geopolitical tool to instigate confrontations between different camps.

The G7, born in the 1970s, is the primary organizational mechanism for developed Western countries to meet and discuss policy issues, and it has make an impact on the evolution of the international landscape for a long time. However, today it stubbornly adheres to ideological prejudice in its attempts to launch aggressive campaigns on all fronts to affect international change. Therefore, the organization is finding that its representation and appeal in the international community are fading and that it becoming more difficult to gain consensus on its policy ideas worldwide.

On a broader scale, the appeal of Western policies has shrunk dramatically. In the past, its policy agenda dominated international political and economic landscapes. The foreign policies of Western powers often shaped the policies of many other countries. As the biggest topic of concern in this meeting, the Western policy approach to the Ukraine crisis, which was launched more than one year ago, has not won the support of most countries in the world. More than two-thirds of the world’s countries are opposed to following in its footsteps to impose sanctions on Russia, and most countries do not think that European security issues are automatically issues other countries should focus on.

The Munich Security Report 2023 admits that most countries resent “Western domination” and that “in many parts of the world, the concept of a 'multipolar' or 'post-Western' order does not need much advertising.” It is a sobering fact that the appeal of Western policies is on the decline. They receive much less positive response worldwide, despite their widespread and blind acceptance in the old days. This decline is due to the weakening of Western strength and the outdated nature of its ideas, and it reflects the obvious tendency of most countries to pursue self-reliance and independence in the context of global changes unseen in a century.

Meanwhile, the Western diplomatic campaign to spread its values has faced significant scrutiny. In recent years, to contain competitors the United States and other Western countries have once again launched values-oriented diplomacy, strengthening the so-called “democracy vs. authoritarianism” narrative and attempting to coerce non-Western countries to join in the suppression of their rivals. However, the vast majority of developing countries stand against the instigation of a confrontation between values, believing that the “democracy vs. authoritarianism” narrative is not a defining feature of the world today and doesn’t match the ethos of the times. Instead, these countries show more preference toward China’s policy propositions, such as “a community with a shared future for mankind” and “common values for mankind.”

Not long ago, the United States held the second Leadership Summit on Democracy to great fanfare. Originally intending to invite leaders from 120 countries, it was met with a lukewarm response in many developing countries. While many countries sent representatives to the event, they issued statements expressing reservations about the final declaration of the summit.

The West appears to be united on the surface, yet in reality many countries are at odds with each other. On the eve of the Nagano meeting, news on the leak of secret defense papers in the U.S. exploded, and stories of America stealing state secrets from its Western allies — in essence spying on them — were also brought to light. The targets included Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and top government officials from the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad and from South Korea.

This is a serious blow to the “great unity” that the United States and other countries have repeatedly played up after the Ukraine crisis. Former U.S. President Donald Trump sarcastically said on social media that “America has never been so embarrassed.” At the same time, internal differences in the Western world are increasingly manifest on major policy levels. The joint communique claimed that all parties share a consistent understanding of China, but France has made it clear that Europe should have “strategic autonomy” on China issues, and Germany is expanding economic and trade relations with China, while expressing concern about decoupling.

It can be seen that the formation of a small clique by the Western world coincides with an increasing diversification of interests and demands within. And this is an important sign of the decline of Western ideology.

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