Trump’s G-7 expansion falls flat on reluctance to exclude China

Linda J. Dodson

TOKYO —  U.S. President Donald Trump’s suggestion the Group of Seven be expanded to include such countries as Russia, Australia, India and South Korea has met a chilly reception from countries, some of whom do not appear keen to have even frostier relations with China.  

Trump said he will delay the next meeting of leading industrial nations until September because he feels the G-7 does not represent what is going on in the world. German leader Angela Merkel had already said she would not attend the June meeting because of coronavirus concerns.

“It’s a very outdated group of countries,” said Trump, who appears to be searching for a way to counter China on the global stage, on Saturday.

Trump relayed his idea to Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone conversation Monday. While Putin’s reaction has not been made public, his press secretary expressed caution toward the invite.

This initiative “should be discussed through diplomatic channels and our diplomats will maintain contacts to get additional information from American partners,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday.

Last year, Peskov said it was not the goal of Russia, which was suspended from the group in 2014 after it annexed Crimea, to return to the G-7. 

“In any case, Russia thinks that now it is not very efficient to discuss global problems in geopolitics, security or economy without China and India,” he added Tuesday, saying it would be better to discuss issues with the Group of 20.

Tensions between the U.S. and China have heated up over trade, Hong Kong and Beijing’s response to the coronavirus. Trump has declared the U.S. would withdraw from the World Health Organization, citing the group’s alleged biased toward China. The White House also said it will scrap the special status granted to Hong Kong due to China’s decision to draft national security legislation for the territory.

South Korea, Australia and India play important roles in Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy, which is seen as a counterweight to Beijing’s Belt and Road cross-border infrastructure initiative. South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he is more than willing to accept the U.S.’s invitation to the G-7 summit, according to a statement released by the presidential Blue House, and that South Korea will fulfill its role in both infectious disease prevention as well as the economy.

But South Korea’s position in this geopolitical landscape is complicated. Because the country relies on China for trade, South Korea seeks to avoid worsening bilateral relations as it rebuilds its economy dented by the global pandemic.

Chinese President Xi Jinping plans to visit South Korea later this year. Moon has expressed the paramount importance of Xi’s visit.

Sino-U.S. relations are not the only flashpoint. A spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the U.K. would not support Russia joining the group, while conceding the U.S. had the right as the host country to invite Russia as a guest.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pointedly rejected Moscow’s participation when talking to reporters Monday.

“Russia was excluded from the G-7 after it invaded Crimea a number of years ago, and its continued disrespect and flaunting of international rules and norms is why it remains outside of the G-7, and it will continue to remain out,” Trudeau said.

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