The G7’s ‘war’ on China

Print edition : July 16, 2021

President Joe Biden and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the NATO summit at the organisation’s headquarters in Brussels on June 14. Photo: Francois Mori/AFP

It is clear that there is widespread agreement in the West that China’s development must be stopped at all costs even if it means mobilising half-truths and lies in a ghastly information war that has no limits.

Before the G7 meeting in Carbis Bay, Cornwall (England), a group of advisers to the major leaders of these seven developed countries penned a memorandum with the unlikely name “Cornwall Consensus”. The point of their text was to provide a pathway “to build forward better from the pandemic”. The unwieldly phrase “build forward better” is borrowed from U.S. President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign slogan, “build back better”. The short, barely over one page, text uses terms such as inclusion, better governance and solidarity. These are empty words because they are not anchored to anything specific.

The G7 is better when it stays at this lofty level. There, its leaders are allowed to let their rhetoric overcome their limitations. They imagine themselves to be Winston Churchills staring down the Nazi Messerschmitts as they crossed the English Channel to bomb Britain in the summer of 1940. Eyebrows furrowed, eyes pinned on the horizon, they talk about the need to “build forward better” in partnership with the world against tyranny. These are men and women who fantasise about their inheritance of freedom, which they, and only they, feel responsible for spreading around the world.

Today’s tyrant, as far as the G7 is concerned, is China. It is the main focus. Yes, these leaders accept, Russia is a problem, but there is no greater problem than China. Every failure of their own is blamed on China, and any limitation in their own countries is blamed on China. This is what psychotherapists called “transference”, a neurosis that prevents the patient from accepting his or her own failures makes him eager to transfer them onto an adversary.

For example, many of these Western states, including the United States, failed miserably when it came to containing the coronavirus, but they do not accept any fault of their own for that. Rather, they latched onto the U.S.’ Central Intelligence Agency’s pet theory that the virus is a Chinese bioweapon. Or else, rather than acknowledge that the U.S. government spies on its adversaries, as was recently revealed again by the Danish broadcaster DK, the Biden administration warns about Chinese violations of the privacy of the world’s peoples. It is not the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s failures or the U.S. espionage that is the problem; the problem is always China.

Also read: Chinese challenge

The final statement contained many winks and nods that suggested that China had created all the problems in the world. Here are four of the key accusations against China.

1. China created the coronavirus. A few weeks into the declaration of the pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the U.S. government began to “speculate” in public about the possibility that the virus had been created in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The G7’s communiqué called “for a timely, transparent, expert-led, and science-based WHO-convened Phase 2 COVID-19 Origins study”, which would require evidence from China. Dr Shi Zengli, a top Chinese virologist at the Wuhan Institute, said of the accusations: “How on earth can I offer up evidence for something where there is no evidence?”

2. China threatens its neighbours. It is telling that the G7 does not directly address the question of Taiwan, which it is far too careful not to touch since the continuation of basic trade relations with China relies on this being a relatively settled issue. Instead, the G7 focusses attention on the Taiwan Strait and on the East and South China Seas, speaking of the “importance of peace and stability” there. Just before the G7 summit and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) meeting in June 14 in Brussels, an aircraft carrier group from the U.K., with U.S. marines on board, left the British Isles for the South China Sea to join French, German, Japanese and U.S. warships in these sea lanes. These Western warships form part of what the U.S. Navy calls “freedom of navigation” exercises that skirt Chinese waters, attempting to provoke a response from the Chinese navy.

3. China suppresses democracy. The principal example here is from the integration of Hong Kong into the Chinese legal framework, although added to this could be the allegations of genocide in Xinjiang. The actual language of the G7 in the Carbis Bay declaration is more measured, avoiding terms such as genocide and mobilisation of forced labour. Instead, the text says that the G7 calls on China “to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang and those rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law”. When Britain held Hong Kong as a colony from 1841 to 1997, it never advanced any human rights or liberal democratic freedoms. It was only after 1997 that the British, and the West in general, began to speak of the suppression of freedom and rights in Hong Kong. In Xinjiang, as well, there is simply little concern for basic facts, and the rhetoric is exaggerated and imprecise. But it serves the interests of the information war being conducted against China. Some of the members of the G7—Germany and Japan, for instance—hesitate before the harsh language from the U.S.; they prefer innuendo, which is the limit of the G7 text.

4. China cheats. Strikingly, the U.S. government has made it part of its agenda to define China’s economic achievements as acts of piracy and unfair trading. It is China’s “non-market policies and practices which undermine the fair and transparent operation of the global economy”, says the statement. Accusation of technology theft and unfair manipulation of the currency—repeating the screeches from the Donald Trump administration—define the attitude of the Biden team and its G7 allies towards China. There is no acknowledgement that China has been able to develop its science and technology sectors or that it has gone ahead of the Western firms in areas such as green technology, 5G and robotics. Rather than face the facts, something that the World Trade Organisation has had to do, the Western countries argue that China advanced through theft.

Mumbles about “the rules-based international system” and “international law” appear in the final communiqué and in the speeches of the G7 leaders. These phrases also occurred at the NATO summit, where their usage allowed the G7 leaders to preen with self-satisfaction at their higher morality. But there are great gaps in logic here. It was not China that bombed Iraq in an illegal war in 2003, nor is it China that runs an illegal sanctions policy against 30 countries, nor did China write the rules of the International Monetary Fund’s structural adjustment policy that continues to hold many developing countries in the death grip of debt.

NATO’s fearmongering

At the NATO summit, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned the alliance partners about Chinese developments in telecommunications and in the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), particularly in Africa. “We see them in cyberspace, we see China in Africa, but we also see China investing heavily in our own critical infrastructure,” Stoltenberg said. China, he said, “is coming closer to us. We need to respond together as an alliance.”

NATO’s final statement said: “China’s stated ambitions and assertive behaviour present systematic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to alliance security.” The idea of a “rules-based international order” is held as a shield against Chinese developments in technology and in its BRI project. There is hyperventilation in these words since anything the Chinese government does is tantamount to being against these rules. This applies to matters inside Chinese borders (Hong Kong, Xinjiang) and outside (Africa).

Also read: Trade and tensions between the US and China

The idea that “China is coming closer to us”, as Stoltenberg said, suggests the kind of fearmongering of the Cold War. Little wonder that the Chinese mission to the European Union said that NATO was fostering a “Cold War mentality” and that NATO’s approach to China was “slandering China’s peaceful development and misjudging the international situation and its own role”. The Chinese government has said that the G7 and NATO are “hyping up” the situation and “creating confrontations” rather than viewing “China’s development rationally”. If the West wants a fight, China suggests, then China will not back down. China will not “sit by and do nothing if ‘systematic challenges’ come closer to us”. The term “systematic challenge” appears in the NATO documents, suggesting that China is seeking to change the system of the “rules-based international order” that has benefitted the West for centuries. The term stuck in the throat of the Chinese government. It has been repeated on many occasions. China will not “pose a ‘systemic challenge’ to anyone”, said the mission, “but if anyone wants to pose a ‘systemic challenge’ to us, we will not remain indifferent”.

The “new cold war” has taken on a white-hot intensity. It had been mistakenly assumed that it was Trump who had idiosyncratically driven this new cold war. It is now clear that there is widespread agreement in the West that China’s development must be stopped at all costs even if it means mobilising half-truths and lies in a ghastly information war that has no limits. Scorched earth tactics, including racism, are on the table.