Wearing green tactical military slacks and hoodie, protocol-shredding attire that underscored both his war-torn nation’s plight and his own star billing, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky made a surprise visit to at the G7 summit in Japan on Saturday, warning that “Russia has tramped on everything that is civilized” and calling for more help from beyond Europe. “I am here in Hiroshima, so the world can hear the Ukrainian call for unity from here,” he said.
Zelensky also rebuked supposedly neutral countries India and Brazil, accusing them of being duped by Kremlin propaganda, while repeating his calls for access to U.S. fighter jets, which U.S. President Joe Biden agreed on Friday to allow European allies to supply to Kyiv. Also on Friday, G7 leaders announced new sanctions on Russia covering exports of industrial machinery, tools and other technology potentially helpful to Moscow’s war effort, while strengthening efforts to curb Russian revenues from trade in metals and diamonds. “Our support for Ukraine will not waver,” the G7 leaders said in a statement.
However, the bulk of business in Hiroshima was not focused on Vladimir Putin’s war of choice, but some 3,600 miles east of Moscow: Beijing’s growing assertiveness. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak deemed China “the greatest challenge of our age” for global security and prosperity, remarking that President Xi Jinping’s government was “increasingly authoritarian at home and abroad.”
In two separate statements, the leaders of the world’s richest democracies reiterated their support for Taiwan—the self-ruling island that China considers its sovereign territory—and said that they were “gravely concerned” regarding Beijing’s inroads in the Indo-Pacific. On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to sign a new security pact with Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby in what’s seen as a clear attempt to offset China’s growing regional influence.
Meanwhile, to broaden the bloc’s Indo-Pacific leadership credentials, the leaders of India, South Korea, Australia, and the Cook Islands joined Zelensky and the G7’s regular members—the U.S., U.K, Italy, Canada, France, Germany and Japan—in Hiroshima, where they laid floral tributes at the city’s peace memorial. The G7 also issued a statement urging Beijing “not to conduct interference activities” and expressed concerns about alleged human rights abuses in China’s far-western regions of Tibet and Xinjiang.
A key focus of the G7 was on reducing reliance of China in supply chains and combating Beijing’s “economic coercion,” pointing out a “disturbing rise” in the “weaponization of economic vulnerabilities.” In recent years, China has not been shy about using trade to respond to perceived affronts, whether cutting imports from Australia over its call for an independent probe into origins of the pandemic, South Korea over its decision to host a U.S. missile system, or Lithuania after the Baltic country permitted Taiwan to establish a de facto embassy. This coercion, the bloc said in a statement, seeks to “undermine the foreign and domestic policies and positions of G7 members as well as partners around the world.”
In response, Beijing’s Foreign Ministry expressed “strong dissatisfaction” with the G7’s joint statements. “The G7 insisted on manipulating China-related issues, smearing and attacking China,” said a foreign ministry spokesman. In addition, China summoned Japan’s ambassador in Beijing for a dressing down. Professor Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs at Beijing’s Renmin University, tells TIME that Washington has recast the G7 from an economic into an “ideological” grouping hellbent on “restricting China from catching up with the U.S. in the global value chain.”
At a press conference on Sunday, U.S. President Joe Biden said the G7’s objective is not to “decouple” from China but to “de-risk and diversify our relationship.” The tech sector is a key battlefield between the world’s top two economies. Washington has already blacklisted dozens of Chinese tech firms, impeding the flow of sophisticated processors and banned its citizens from assisting China to develop sensitive industries like semiconductors. On Wednesday, Montana became the first U.S. state to ban short-video app TikTok on even private smartphones.
On Sunday, Beijing hit back by banning operators of key infrastructure from using chips made by U.S. firm Micron, saying it found “relatively serious” cybersecurity risks.
It is unclear whether Western efforts to stymie China’s technological development will be effective. Keyu Jin, an associate professor at the London School of Economics and author of The New China Playbook, tells TIME that while squeezing China’s supply chains may have short-term benefits, it could be counterproductive in the long-term. China has a very large and enclosed innovation ecosystem that links national labs with thousands of domestic tech companies, which, due to Western export controls, now have much more demand and fewer overseas competitors. “Leapfrogging can happen in these kinds of circumstances,” says Jin.
As well as efforts to impede Chinese tech development, the U.S. has also ramped up cooperation with allies. On the sidelines of the G7 on Sunday, IBM announced a 10-year, $100 million initiative with the University of Tokyo and the University of Chicago to develop by far the world’s most powerful quantum-centric supercomputer. China in recent years has also been investing heavily in quantum computers, which have potentially transformative military and cryptography applications.
But some analysts fear the march toward tech decoupling risks entrenching economic strains across the developing world, which could backfire in terms of growing backing for populist and authoritarian modes of government. “Economic problems are fueling political discontent and democratic backsliding in countries ranging from Pakistan to Tunisia,” says Richard Gowan, U.N. Director of the International Crisis Group, calling for more economic assistance from the G7 for struggling nations of the Global South. “Economic strains are driving political instability worldwide.”
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