With China topping the agenda of the Group of Seven (G7) meeting as foreign ministers of member states have been urged to coordinate and form a common stance in addressing the "challenges" posed by China, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken rejected claims of a "Cold War" between the US and China, signaling that rather than making all-out efforts to form an anti-China choir, the Biden administration is making subtle moves to align its allies, Chinese experts said, noting that in return, EU officials' mixed signals on the ratification of its most promising investment deal appear to be a gesture of echoing the "alignment sentiment" in the face of growing domestic pressure.
The UK held the first face-to-face meeting of G7 foreign ministers this week since the COVID-19 pandemic began, during which China-related topics remained the major focus, despite Blinken clarifying ahead of the meeting that "it is not our purpose to try to contain China or to hold China down," the US Secretary of State was quoted as saying in a Reuters report. Blinken however further elaborated that the West would defend the international rules based order from subversive attempts by any country, including China.
Apparently, during the three-day talks, which wrapped up on Wednesday Blinken sought to rope in allies to form a common front against China, but experts raised doubts whether tactics like a war of words embedded with "targeting China" or "blaming China" would really work when not only members of the G7 but also the US itself, need to work with Beijing on major global issues such as vaccine supplies, climate change, North Korea and Iran, experts said.
The final session of the G7 meeting that set the agenda for a G7 leaders' summit next month in Cornwall will focus on the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, as member countries emphasize on the COVAX vaccine jab distribution mechanism under the UN, after the WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently urged G7 countries to take decisive action in funding the global post-COVID-19 recovery, as "they are also home to many of the world's vaccine producers."
Even though the COVAX mechanism has shipped about 50 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to 121 countries and economies, the world still faces severe supply constraints, the WHO said in a post on Monday, noting that solving this dilemma demands courageous leadership from the world's largest economies.
Blinken has been emphasizing that the purpose of the G7 is not about containing China because he clearly understands if he pressures other nations to form a unified anti-China stance, the allies of the US would keep their distance from it, so he has to be more tactical in handling the matter because other nations have large-scale interactions with China regarding the economy and people-to-people exchanges, Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations at China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
"The US government has to weigh the current situation with full consideration of the level of acceptance among its allies," Li said.
Besides economic benefits, the global post-COVID-19 recovery demands an active role of Chinese-made vaccines, experts said on Wednesday, after Europe's medicines regulator said it has begun a real-time review of Sinovac's COVID-19 vaccine, according to media reports on Tuesday. Meanwhile, vaccines developed by two major vaccine producers Sinopharm and Sinovac have been put under the WHO's assessment for emergency use.
The US and the West need China's cooperation in regional security issues and public goods distribution, including the Korean Peninsula and the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, which were on the agendas of the G7 foreign ministers, according to experts.
"Without China's cooperation, these issues will not be solved. On the contrary, they might be worsened," Li said, noting that the EU has realized this and will not follow the US' China containment policy.
Diplomats from South Korea, the US and Japan held three-way talks on the sidelines of the G7 meeting early Wednesday, a crucial meeting coming after the Biden administration said last week that it completed its policy review on North Korea, according to the Yonhap News Agency.
The US government also recognized the importance of engaging with China on various issues such as Iran and the North Korean and climate change, as Blinken told the Financial Times in a recent interview that climate change is also among the areas the two countries have overlapping interests in.
What Blinken said about "not containing China" was not new at all, indicating that the US is very clear in its own mind that it's impossible to contain China, especially not like what it did to contain the Soviet Union, and the US, whose power is not what it used to be, is incapable of roping in its allies to besiege China, Xin Qiang, deputy director of the Center for US Studies at Fudan University, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
An echoing gesture
Amid the G7 foreign ministers' meeting, the European Commission seems to have "dialed down" efforts to push forward its planned investment deal with China, with some media reports suggesting that "EU efforts to ratify the China investment deal is on ice after sanctions."
After the EU's trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis reportedly suggested on Tuesday that Brussels has suspended some efforts in ratifying the deal, the EU spokesperson on Wednesday sought to clarify the issue without specifically confirming the EU has halted efforts.
The agreement needs to be now legally reviewed and translated before it can be presented for adoption and ratification. However, the ratification process of the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) cannot be separated from the evolving dynamics of the wider EU-China relationship, Miriam García Ferrer, a spokesperson of the European Commission, said in an e-mail to the Global Times on Wednesday.
The prospects for the CAI's ratification will depend on how the situation evolves, she said, referring to sanctions on members of the European Parliament and an entire parliamentary committee as "unacceptable and regrettable."
With the mixed signals, the European Commission was trying to placate the discontent and maladaptation of some EU members after China's countermeasures against the EU over so-called human rights issues, and also to make a gesture to please the US, Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of European Studies at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
"However, EU members, especially major powers such as France and Germany want the deal to be approved as soon as possible, and the EU is likely to approve the deal in the first half of 2022 at the latest when France takes over the rotating EU Council presidency," Wang said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday she remained convinced that the EU-China investment deal was an "important undertaking" even as strained relations complicate the agreement's ratification.
"Despite all the difficulties that will surely arise with the ratification, it is a very important undertaking," Merkel said.