Overt anxiety about a repeat of the last year’s fiasco in the ongoing Group of Seven summit at Biarritz, France, gave way to some quivering optimism with US President Donald Trump’s latest pivot on his shrill trade war with China. Three days after describing him as an “enemy”, the US President asserted that the Chinese Premier Xi Jinping is a “great leader” and that he hopes to “make a deal” towards ending a crisis that has plagued world financial markets and escalated global fears of recession. While this would be a cause for relief among the world’s top economic powers, the issue that continues to plague an once-powerful multilateral platform is its inability to chart a coherent course in the face of volatile trade disputes, complexities arising out of Brexit, tensions with Iran along with the stated objective this year of addressing the issue of economic inequality. The host this year, French President Emmanuel Macron, has worked delicately to avoid the kind of scandal that the last G7 summit turned into when Trump publicly fought with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, calling him “weak”, skipped the climate change meetings and refused to endorse the routine joint communiqué.
Indeed, the G7 has turned into a collection of bilateral talks mostly tailored to suit the US President’s priorities. Trump struck a deal with Japan to sell excess US corn as a result of the standoff between Washington and Beijing and refused to attend the session on climate, oceans and biodiversity where the other members agreed on a $20 million aid package to help Brazil and its neighbours fight the fires raging in the Amazon rain forest. Trump also refused to meet Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif who arrived in Biarritz on Sunday reportedly as part of a French move to calm things down between the US and Iran. From the Indian perspective, a bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the US President would be beneficial only if it helps facilitate and expedite the trade talks between the two countries. Here too, President Trump’s insistence on mediating in Kashmir overshadowed the proceedings. The US President has twice offered his assistance on Kashmir. The PM seemed to have staved off these overtures by underlining that India and Pakistan can solve their issues bilaterally. What remains to be seen is whether the camaraderie displayed in Modi’s meeting with Trump would translate into the US desisting from its drive to prevent India, along with China, from availing Special & Differential Treatment (S&DT) in the WTO as developing countries.
While some in the developing world may celebrate the diminished influence of a once mighty Western consensus, it would be dangerous if global affairs continue to be guided by the whims of a volatile leader, while Russia and China chart their individual course. The absence of statesmanship is being felt even more keenly amidst deepening trade and economic crisis, and stark manifestations of climate change and inequality.