Roll on the D10 to confront China

This June, the G7 will meet in-person for the first time in two years, in the sleepy Cornish resort of Carbis Bay. As always, a range of pertinent geopolitical topics will be on the table, from business and health to human rights. The UK’s corresponding presidency of this year’s COP26 UN climate change conference will make climate policy a particularly relevant topic.

Both the G7 and COP26 conferences will provide a golden opportunity for the UK to project the image of a ‘Global Britain’ open for business in the wake of our official exit from the European Union. It also ought to form a crucial stepping stone toward tightening our Asia-Pacific alliances going forward.

The UK also plans to use its presidency of these global forums to incubate the ’D10’, an alliance of democracies with a shared interest in countering China’s influence on the world stage, made up of the G7 member-states plus India, South Korea and Australia. This pro-democracy alliance is not a novel idea, or even a particularly British one. Indeed, the idea has been floated by DC thinktanks for years. However, the relevance of this brewing partnership cannot be underestimated in a world where undemocratic powers are growing in their strength, and their domination of multilateral institutions such as the United Nations remains untouched.

Not everyone is too pleased about this prospect, however. EU officials, whose parliament is yet to approve the bloc’s controversial trade deal with China, has expressed concern over a potential ‘new cold war’.

This recent deal displays a flagrant lack of concern for long-standing and rapidly mounting concerns over China’s human rights abuses, including its a vast network of forced labour, cultural destruction and sterilisation of the Uyghur population, policies that western trade is undoubtedly complicit in, and which the United States officially acknowledged as constituting genocide this Tuesday.

South Korea’s participation may also infuse the event with a measure of awkwardness, given its renewed tensions with Japan stemming from its 1910-1945 colonial rule.

Moreover, given that the approval of new members must receive a unanimous vote, any permanent expansion of the G7 remains unlikely. However, the D10’s soft launch in June will likely lead to a more official partnership that may, in time, take on more relevance than the G7.

As Chatham House suggested, 2021’s conference will do well to function as a prelude to Biden’s proposed ‘Summit for Democracy’. It may even help knuckle-dragging French and Italian diplomats face the reality that an American alliance remains more beneficial and suitable for the European Union, and will allow the UK some part in setting the agenda going forward. This will be critical for the Johnson-Biden relationship, which has so far got off to a rocky start, with questions of a post-Brexit deal set to be unresolved for some time.

Although Trump’s unconventional approach to international cooperation contributed to commendable moves such as the historic Abraham Accords, action on environmental issues was certainly not a priority. The now-former President even referred to climate change as a ‘hoax invented by China‘ in a 2012 tweet.

Trump’s readiness to talk tough on China was not always paired with concrete action, and his explosive personality led him to miss opportunities to accentuate US environmental policy and hold China to account on its green record – or lack thereof. China consequently found it easy to browbeat the West on environmental issues, despite its multi-billion dollar Belt and Road Initiative’s reliance on coal, its poor record on animal rights, not to mention its rank of 120 out of 180 on the Environmental Performance index, compared to the USA’s rank of 24.

Biden’s return to the status quo on climate change policy, and the US subsequently rejoining the Paris Agreement, may afford the up-and-coming D10 with crucial political ammunition that general statements on democracy and freedom does not. A US-led G7 & D10 willing to tackle climate change can set the stage for a strong, market-friendly approach to a slew of issues, including environmental integrity, that will serve not to scapegoat non-western nations, but strengthen the West and naturally expose the failures of centralised tyranny in China and beyond.

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