The G7 is the informal grouping of industrialised democracies that meets once a year to discuss global economic challenges, international security, human rights, energy policies and other key global issues. Of recent, a unified statement released by the leaders of the G7 has increased the growing tensions in the group, especially between the US and China.
In the statement, China was urged to “respect human rights and fundamental freedoms”. In her response, China accused the G7 of “political manipulation”, after the group criticised Beijing on a number of fronts. This discord between G7 and China has its root in China’s campaign in Xinjiang, which began in 2017.
The Chinese government detained up to a million Uyghurs and other Muslims and imprisoned hundreds of thousands more in Xinjiang. In the region, there have been numerous reports of physical and psychological torture in detention camps. However, China denies these charges flatly, claiming they are false.
Issues about China’s policy towards Hong Kong and Taiwan were also mentioned by the G7. In Hong Kong, a new security law imposed by China last year has made it easier for the authorities to punish protestors. The G7 statement called for the rights and freedoms of people in that territory to be protected. The leaders agreed that Hong Kong should retain a “high degree of autonomy”, as stipulated in the 1997 agreements when it was returned to China.
The statement equally emphasised the “importance of peace and stability” across the Taiwan Strait, which separates China and Taiwan and is closely policed by China. Taiwan sees itself as a sovereign state, but China regards democratic Taiwan as a separatist province.
The G7 also urged for a further investigation into Covid-19’s Chinese origins. In response to this, the Chinese Embassy in the United Kingdom took exception to the references of Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, stating that the statements were distorted, calling them “spiteful goals of a few countries, primarily the United States.”
A day after the statement from G7, a Chinese spokesman asked the G7 leaders to, “stop slandering and interfering in China’s domestic affairs, and to stop damaging China’s interests.”
If the G7 is asking China to uphold human rights principles within her territories, why then has it become such an issue? One may be tempted to take a biased stand against China if one does not carefully consider the pre-existing relationship between both parties.
The first question is, could it be that the recurring tension that has characterised the relations between China and G7 is what is still playing out, or China simply needs to put its activities in check? The United States of America has always spearheaded the G7 and its confrontation against China.
Calculated economic cooperation with hegemonic rivalry and mutual scepticism of each other’s intentions have always characterised the relationship between the US and China. As a result, each nation has developed a suspicious attitude toward the other as a potential opponent, while maintaining a robust economic comradeship from time to time.
The drawback is that America regards China as a current and future threat to the established order, in its quest for regional hegemony in East Asia. Beijing rejects these ideas, but continues to pursue assertive policies and allies. The relationship worsened dramatically under President Donald Trump, whose administration designated China as a “strategic rival” in its National Security Strategy in 2017.
Another perspective to this continuous discord is that perhaps, China’s relations with Africa seem to threaten the West, particularly because Africa was a colonial territory of some G7 countries. China not only pushes its businesses to invest in Africa, but also provides them with loans to help them become more competitive economically in the region.
There are various Chinese enterprises operating on the African continent, especially in the energy, construction, agriculture, telecommunications, and transportation sectors, where they continue to support and invest. In order to enhance bilateral relations, China presently has bilateral and bi-national agreements with more than 50 of Africa’s 55 countries, excluding those that recognise Taiwan.
However, the West has often criticised China’s activities in Africa, due to its questionable commercial practices and failure to probe its human rights abuses.
Nonetheless, China’s stance appears to be acceptable to most African nations. At the same time, Beijing’s complicated relationship with Africa has put its policy of non-interference in African countries to the test. On the other hand, China’s answer has been that the West will better comprehend Sino-African ties if it treats China and Africa with equality and mutual respect, rather than presuming moral superiority by thinking itself as the embodiment of justice, equality, democracy, and freedom.
The issue has also led to reactions from North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) leaders. After a meeting in Brussels, NATO raised the alarm over the dangers posed by China’s military, calling it a “systemic challenge.” NATO also claimed that China was fast-growing its nuclear arsenal, and was extremely “opaque” about its military modernisation. The body also frowned at China’s military corporation with Russia. NATO’s secretary General, Jen Stoltenberg, told reporters that “we need to handle collectively, as an alliance, the problems that China’s rise offers to our security.”
China is a military and economic powerhouse, with the Communist Party in charge of politics, daily life, and the majority of its society. With over two million active military personnel, China today has the world’s largest armed forces. A real threat to any potential aggressor.
It is no surprise that NATO has grown increasingly concerned about China’s expanding military capabilities, which it sees as a threat to its members’ security and democratic ideals.
However, China’s EU Mission accused NATO of “slandering China’s peaceful development” in a post on Twitter and reaffirmed that China was committed to a defensive security policy. “China will not present systematic problems to anyone, but if systematic challenges come closer to them, they would not sit by and do nothing,” it added.
Does this continuous discord affect African and China’s relations in any way? Traditional friendship and strong cooperation connections between China and African countries have endured the test of time and have weathered worldwide turmoil. Under the current circumstance, this partnership, which serves as an example to emerging countries, has been further solidified and developed.
The economic and trade links between China and African countries have improved in recent years. The Chinese government has made several efforts to develop new methods for increasing economic and trade cooperation on the basis of equality and mutual benefit. China promotes and supports firms from both sides, extending their investment in Africa and boosting trade volume, while continuing to offer economic assistance without any apparent political strings attached.
China’s primary opposition in the diplomatic and economic drive into Africa are the United States, France, and the United Kingdom. In 2009, China overtook the United States as Africa’s greatest trading partner. Between China and 40 African countries, a lot of bilateral trade agreements have been struck. China-Africa trade was about $10 billion in 2000, but by 2014, it had risen to $220 billion.
In an effort to challenge China’s multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Programme for developing economies, dubbed the “New Silk Road,” the Group of Seven (G7) nations launched a massive infrastructure initiative for lower-income countries few years ago. The G7 leaders also stated last Saturday that they will continue to create a “value-driven, high-standard, and transparent” relationship, promising to “collectively catalyze” hundreds of billions in infrastructure projects for low and middle-income countries. Their “Build Back Better World” (B3W) effort, championed then by Joe Biden, who was Vice-President at that time, was targeted squarely at competing with China’s Belt and Road plan, which has been criticised for saddling tiny countries with unmanageable debt. China’s Belt and Road Initiative strengthens economic, political, and security linkages between Africa and China, while also advancing Beijing’s geopolitical goals.
Africa is a key consumer of China’s industrial surpluses, including coal, cement, steel, glass, solar, shipbuilding, and aluminium, all of which are used in the One Belt One Road plan. Chinese cement shipments increased tenfold during the construction of the Nairobi-Mombasa railway in Kenya. In 2018, steel exports from China to Nigeria climbed by 15%, while steel imports from Algeria more than tripled. In 2019, China raised its global aluminium exports by 20%, reaching $46 billion in trade with Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa.
The implication of these new initiatives, the One Belt One Road initiative and the Build Back Better World, is that they would bring about healthy competition between the US and China, and as a result, provide options for African countries to adopt whichever initiative best suit them. Africa will now find itself in a new position where the continent can comfortably say “head or tail, we win.”