In the run-up to the upcoming G7 Summit in June, foreign ministers of the seven wealthiest nations, met in London to discuss on a wide variety of issues for collective deliberation at the top leadership level next month. But unlike the past, the recent G7 foreign ministerial meeting placed Indo-Pacific as a new strategic focus this year ⸺ a move that showcased the grouping’s increasingly unequivocal position in dealing with the issues related to China today. As stipulated in the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ Communique (or the Comminique), there are three “firsts” when comes to the group’s position on the Indo-Pacific region.
First and foremost, all the G7 foreign ministers pledged to support ASEAN’s centrality with an eye toward building concrete cooperation with the Southeast Asian bloc in the coming years. For the first time in G7’s history, ASEAN’s participants are invited to the May ministerial meeting in London. Apart from the ASEAN Chair which is represented by Brunei in the G7’s ministerial meeting, the Southeast Asian bloc’s Secretary-General also attended the event as another participant alongside foreign ministers of Australia, India, South Korea and South Africa. With such importance attached to ASEAN by the G7 foreign ministers, all eyes are looking to see if there will be any Southeast Asian representative invited to the G7 Summit slated to be held in Cornwall (UK) next month.
That said, such importance attached to ASEAN, does not describe the whole picture of the G7 foreign ministerial meeting. The core remained to be G7’s support for ASEAN’s centrality in the Indo-Pacific region. To be specific, it entailed harmonizing G7’s Indo-Pacific normative position (norms, rules and values) with that of ASEAN’s Indo-Pacific Outlook through concrete cooperation between the two. Aside from pandemic recovery and climate change that are outlined in the Communique, improvisation of regional connectivity is another area of which it is particularly relevant to ASEAN member countries. As the Southeast Asian bloc is set along the course of economic integration, quality infrastructure development and projects ⸺ as highlighted by the Communique ⸺ are undoubtedly important for ASEAN countries to achieve sustainable development in the long-term.
Second, the G7 foreign ministers also included Taiwan in their overall position toward China. Just like the inclusion of ASEAN’s centrality into the Communique, the inclusion of Taiwan within the official document, is a departure from the cautious position adopted in the previous communiques. While the G7 foreign ministers failed to meet in 2020 and only issued a statement on the imposition of national security law in Hong Kong, the 2019 communique also conveniently avoided the Taiwan issue in their collective position toward China. From the May meeting, however, the G7 foreign ministers made it absolutely clear that they are supporting Taiwan’s meaningful participation in World Health Organization (WHO) forums and World Health Assembly (WHA) in line with the spirit of inclusiveness within all international organizations. Furthermore, the G7 foreign ministers also highlighted Taiwan’s success in containing the COVID-19 pandemic as another rationale that should be given strong consideration as countries around the world can learn from the Taiwanese experiences on this particular area.
Finally, the G7 foreign ministers also layered the Taiwan Strait issue within their collective position on both the East and South China Seas. Deviating from the 2019 communique that sidestepped the Taiwan Strait issue, the latest Communique emphasized the G7’s call for maintaining peace and security in the Taiwan Strait, the first ever such articulation is made in the ministerial meeting. Without singling China in their follow-up statement, the G7 foreign ministers urged both Beijing and Taipei to resolve the cross-Strait disputes peacefully and not to resort to unilateral actions that would destabilize the region and the international rules-based order.
The interesting part, however, is the layering of the Taiwan Strait issue within the G7’s statement on the East and South China Seas. For certain, such maneuver brought Taiwan into the same page with the other two territorial disputes, namely, Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands’ dispute (East China Sea) and Spratly Islands’ dispute (South China Sea). This effectively elevated the Taiwan Strait into an international issue on par with the two territorial disputes and with that, sought to neutralize China’s long-standing discourse of insulating Taiwan from the world through its “one-China” principle.
Notwithstanding the three “firsts” from the recent G7 foreign ministerial meeting, the overarching question will be on how these collective positions can be translated into tangible actions on the ground. For instance, on G7’s support for ASEAN’s centrality, the major challenges stem from the two aspects: Can the G7 nations operationalize its cooperation with the Southeast Asian bloc as a collective institution? How significant these wealthy countries can contribute to ASEAN’s integration in a way that they become the indispensable partners for the Southeast Asian bloc as a whole?
Similarly, the G7’s increasingly unequivocal position on the two Taiwan-related issues reverberate another follow-up question: Will China play with the G7’s playbook or at least, adjust its “one-China” principle to reduce any external pressure on its non-negotiable position toward Taiwan? From the recent statement issued by the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, it seemed Beijing has no interest to alter the status quo as far as its position on Taiwan is concerned. Besides reiterating China’s position to handle Taiwan’s international participation based on the “one-China” principle, Wang also criticized G7 for what he sees as an interference to the Chinese internal affairs in an array of issues that included the contentious East and South China Seas. As such, it will be hard to imagine China adjusting its long-held position on Taiwan despite the increasingly unequivocal position adopted by the G7 foreign ministers on issues related to the island.