About the author:
Marco Carrasco-Villanueva, Professor of East Asian Studies at the National University of San Marcos (Peru)
The G7 and China-Central Asia Summits held in May 2023 were significant events that highlighted the contrasting approaches taken by developed and developing countries in addressing global challenges. While the G7 summit focused on various issues, such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Chinese economic coercion, nuclear non-proliferation, AI governance, and sustainable development, the China-Central Asia Summit aimed to foster regional high-level communication mechanisms and promote economic and social advancements. Thus, while the G7 summit appeared to be disconnected from more down-to-earth global challenges, the China-Central Asia Summit announced several regional cooperation and coordination plans and agreements pertaining to security and development which showed a more pragmatic approach. In this context, a comparison between these two summits can offer insights into the roles that developed and developing countries are currently having for the world, and something particularly special is that some of the concerns currently expressed by the Global North and the Global South have begun to diverge more drastically.
The 49th G7 Summit
The G7 leaders met from May 19 to 21, 2023 in Hiroshima for the annual G7 summit, which presented an opportunity for the world's largest advanced democracies to coordinate geopolitical, economic, and security issues. This year’s summit tried to reinforce the notion that the G7 is regaining its prominence after being overshadowed by the emergence of the G20 just a few years ago while suggesting that the G20 may have lost relevance due to its remaining inclusion of Russia and China. In this sense, adherents of the G7 have suggested that it has once again emerged as the primary forum for major global economies to coordinate policies on critical issues, maybe without considering its bias towards the Western-style developed countries despite the efforts the summit has made to invite leaders from Australia, Brazil, Comoros, Cook Islands, India, Indonesia, South Korea, and Vietnam. However, something particular about this year’s G7 summit, as it occurs every seven years when takes place in Japan, is that it has offered G7 countries a rare opportunity to focus on what they referred to as Indo-Pacific-specific issues, in addition to the more regular focus on traditional security, technology, and economic concerns, the Ukraine war, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Indeed, there were four overarching themes that characterized this year’s G7 summit. Firstly, there was significant support for Ukraine, emphasizing the link between security in Europe and security in the Indo-Pacific. Secondly, an overwhelming focus on China, which is featured both explicitly and implicitly, with an endorsement for “peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” something praised by some but also raised criticism by others who are concerned with the dangerous intromission in internal issues of another country. Thirdly, there was a pretending outreach to the Global South, with an aim to a more robust engagement with developing economies. Finally, there was a focus on nuclear disarmament, with the Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida hailing from Hiroshima and utilizing this event to highlight the dangers of nuclear weapons, emphasizing the continued need for a world without them, despite Japan’s recent defense spending increase in accordance to its new National Security Strategy. In addition to these major four themes, the G7 leaders reaffirmed their commitment to achieving Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050. Moreover, they also emphasized the need to unlock investments and policy reforms to accelerate progress toward the SDGs, including by investing in more resilient food and health systems, and by addressing the effects of climate change. However, in spite of the intentions, the discourses that emerged from the summit have not been free of criticism and have been seen as confrontational towards both Russia and China, pushing a path of further distance between the Global North and these two countries, limiting the possibility of reconciliations, and simplifying the complexities of the current world order by suggesting that each country may need to take a side, something that can be out of the reality of most Global South countries, which benefit from having good relations with all major economies in the world.
In this context, China was also a protagonist in many of the discussions of the G7 summit, in topics such as:
▪ “China’s increasingly assertive posture in the Asia Pacific”: This led the summit to focus on strategies to deal with the “assertive advance” of China in the region.
▪ “Chinese economic coercion”: A discussion in which the G7 leaders made clear their stance on what they alleged were “economic coercion strategies” used by China towards some of its trading partners.
▪ “Warning against China’s threat to global supply chains and economic security”: A discussion in which G7 countries grappled with how to warn against what they see as China’s threat to global economic security without completely alienating a powerful and important trade partner.
▪ “Building constructive and stable relations with China”: G7 members discussed how to build constructive and stable relations with China while keeping their actions in their national interests.
▪ “Unified approach to dealing with China based on shared values”: A consensus based on how the G7 summit tried to show that its leaders unified behind a common approach to dealing with China based on shared values, even while recognizing each country manages its own relationship with Beijing independently.
In this sense, while the G7 summit in Hiroshima presented an opportunity for the world’s largest advanced democracies to coordinate geopolitical, economic, and security issues that could be pragmatical in its approach to support developing countries, the summit’s agenda rather reflected the priorities of Japan and the U.S. by focusing on global traditional security and economic issues with the paradigm of a more confrontational world. The leaders made notable commitments on most, but not all, the nowadays relevant issues. As the discourses that emerged from the summit have been seen as confrontational towards Russia and China, pushing further distance between the Global North and these two countries, it may be important to think that whether the G7 leaders consider of relevance the highly anticipated G20 summit that will happen in September 2023. Moreover, while the G7 summit showed leaders pretending to look unified behind a common approach to dealing with China and Russia, as long as each country will manage its own relationship with Beijing, there will always be an important space for further developments and strategic alignment coming from each side in the following years.
The 1st China-Central Asia Summit
The China-Central Asia Summit took place on May 18 and 19, 2023, in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province. As opposed to the more global-business-oriented G7, its scope was geographically more specific, but its purpose was also more pragmatic and down-to-earth. It aimed to review the development of China-Central Asia relations, by discussing the establishment of mechanisms and exploring the possibility of cooperation in various areas, while addressing major international and regional issues of mutual interest. Xi Jinping, along with the presidents of the five Central Asian countries that took part in the summit: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, signed the Xi'an Declaration of the China-Central Asia Summit, ushering in a new era of cooperation and providing a fresh platform for their relations. China also presented an extensive plan for Central Asia's development, encompassing infrastructure projects, trade enhancements, and increased investment. In this sense, the summit is expected to initiate a new generation of opportunities for China-Central Asia cooperation and contribute to regional stability.
In this context, some outcomes of the 1st China-Central Asia Summit with important implications were:
▪ The heads of state reviewed the development of China-Central Asia relations and discussed mechanisms building, cooperation in various fields, and major international and regional issues.
▪ China expressed its willingness to align development strategies with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, and work together to promote the modernization of all six nations.
▪ Xi Jinping unveiled an ambitious plan for Central Asia's development, encompassing infrastructure construction, trade promotion, and investment facilitation.
▪ China and Central Asian countries emphasized the need for deepened strategic trust and committed to providing unwavering support to each other on core interest issues such as sovereignty, independence, national dignity, and long-term development.
▪ Plans were made to increase mutual trade to reach $100 billion by 2030.
▪ The aim of fostering Chinese cooperation with Central Asian countries is something perceived as a regional strategy by the U.S., which may trigger its response some time ahead (Freeman et al., 2023).
In contrast to the agreements of the recent 49th G7 Summit, the China-Central Asia Summit aimed to foster more pragmatic cooperation among some countries in the Global South. While the G7 summit focused on controversial issues like what they labeled as Chinese economic coercion, the China-Central Asia Summit sought to establish high-level communication mechanisms to promote economic and social progress. The summit's emphasis on win-win cooperation and the vision of building a closer China-Central Asia community with a shared future reflected the spirit of cooperation and the aspiration for enduring friendship. However, whether the outcomes of the summit are going to contribute to regional stability, or signaling a departure from the paradigm of confrontation, may be something yet to be seen, as some US analysts have labeled this as a regional Chinese strategy, that may demand a strategic response from the U.S. in Central Asia sometime in the future. Time will tell.
Reflections on the diverging concerns of the Global North and the Global South
Among these summits, something important to consider is the rising influence that the Global South is having in terms of defining the agenda and the roles of a post-unipolar order, especially in contrast to the Global North which has been looking for more representation from the South to guarantee its legitimacy. Furthermore, some non-western nations may consider twice after having witnessed the prioritization of self-interest by the West over some real urgent global issues such as health and climate change. Consequently, the non-aligned movement has seen a resurgence as these countries perceive an opportunity to leverage both the United States and China against each other and challenge the prevailing global order established in 1945.
The upcoming BRICS Summit, consisting of Russia, China, Brazil, India, and South Africa, with potential new members including Iran, seeks to address a range of these objectives. Additionally, the forthcoming G20 Summit in India could be more significant than ever in terms of defining the roles that the most relevant developing countries in the Global South will play in the coming future. Recently, some of these developing nations’ leaders have renewed their calls for objectives such as restructuring the United Nations Security Council to reflect the most recent world dynamics, reevaluating the Bretton Woods Institutions, questioning the supremacy of the US dollar as the global reserve currency, and resisting the American-led system of economic sanctions, among others.
Although the composition of the BRICS and G20 groups is diverse, encompassing developed countries and emerging economies, their collective goals could demonstrate a shared desire to reshape the global order in a more Global South-oriented approach. In this regard, developed Global North nations may need to demonstrate a more genuine commitment to contributing to global development while being mindful of their rhetoric to avoid patronization or imperialistic appearances. In this context, the Biden administration is forging tailored regional alliances to counterbalance China’s growing influence, whereas China has been actively convening summits, potentially enhancing its global influence. In the meantime, the non-aligned nations have been raising voices to be considered in this new and reshaped world, that instead of confrontation, countries should foster greater cooperation.
1. The White House, May 21. Fact Sheet: The 2023 G7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan, 2023.
2. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China, President Xi Jinping Chairs the Inaugural China-Central Asia Summit and Delivers a Keynote Speech, 2023, May 19.
This article is from the June issue of TI Observer (TIO), which is a monthly publication devoted to bringing China and the rest of the world closer together by facilitating mutual understanding and promoting exchanges of views. If you are interested in knowing more about the September issue, please click here:
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