G7 top diplomats seek unity on China after Macron remarks

The G7’s top diplomats began talks in Japan on Monday, looking to project a unified message on concerns about China after controversial remarks by French President Emmanuel Macron.

The foreign ministers are keen to move past the firestorm created by Macron’s assertion, after a trip to Beijing, that Europe should avoid “crises that aren’t ours”, and China was on the agenda even before official talks kicked off on Monday morning.

After arriving at the mountain resort town of Karuizawa on a special bullet train, the group held a working dinner on China and North Korea, with Japan’s Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi telling his counterparts that “the unity of the G7 is extremely important”.

Monday’s first session again focused on China and regional challenges, and Hayashi opened the talks by warning the international community was “at history’s turning point”.

He urged counterparts to “demonstrate to the world the G7’s strong determination” to defend the “international order based on the rule of law”.

Host Japan is keen to put regional challenges atop the agenda, and recent events including Chinese military drills around Taiwan and North Korean missile tests have sharpened that focus.

Even as the ministers began talks, the US Navy announced it had sailed a guided-missile destroyer through the Taiwan Strait in a freedom-of-navigation operation.

The controversy over Macron’s remarks will prompt closer scrutiny of whatever language a final statement, expected Tuesday, uses on China and its threats to seize self-ruled Taiwan.

Trips to Beijing by Macron and other G7 officials “will be a topic of discussion”, a senior US official said Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“I think there will be a discussion of how we can continue to be fully aligned on a common and concerted approach.”

The bloc’s officials have been keen to avoid pouring more fuel on the fire, and French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna has insisted there is no change of policy on China and Taiwan.

– Striking a balance –

Still, for all the outward expressions of unity, Macron’s comments reflect the fact that there are real differences among the allies, said Jacques deLisle, director of the Asia programme at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.

“Europe’s assessments of China and views of Taiwan have moved toward positions that the US has favoured. But this has not brought consensus,” he said.

“Washington’s views of China have become still more negative and, relatedly, signals of support for Taiwan have grown much stronger, maintaining a gap between European and American positions.”

Even within Europe, there are differing views on the right balance between criticising and engaging with China, with the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell warning against “counterproductive” measures.

“China has become increasingly assertive… but we have to continue engaging with China, looking for solutions to global challenges,” he told reporters on Sunday.

“We have to continue trading with China,” added Borrell, who has not travelled to Japan because he has Covid.

To do otherwise “would be counterproductive and create a vacuum that someone else would be filling, and we would lose economic leverage in China.”

Washington and Tokyo have both sounded the alarm on “economic coercion” by Beijing, and a final statement to be issued tomorrow is likely to call for more action on diversifying supply chains for sensitive items such as semiconductors.

The G7 — Japan, the United States, Britain, Canada, France, the EU, Italy and Germany — is also likely to restate tough language on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, though no new measures are expected.

Japan has stepped up security for the meeting after an explosive was thrown towards Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during a campaign event on Saturday.

But Hayashi has tried to keep the tone light.

Sunday was the birthday of both the US and French foreign ministers, and the group was presented with apple pie made by a Karuizawa hotel said to have been popular with John Lennon.

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