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Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives at the G20 foreign ministers meeting in Matera, Italy. Photo: AP

China-US relations: Washington and Beijing set out competing visions of international cooperation at G20 meeting

  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken tells the foreign ministers meeting that ‘effective and accountable’ international mechanisms are needed
  • Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi hits out at ‘high-sounding slogans’ and attacks Covid-19 vaccine ‘hoarding’

The United States has told the G20 foreign ministers that “effective and accountable” international institutions are needed as Beijing pointedly warned against empty calls for multilateralism and “vaccine hoarding” by richer countries.

Fresh off a week-long tour through Europe, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken drove home the message that the US had ditched the Trump-era approach, telling the Group of 20 foreign ministers meeting in Italy that a “strong multilateral system is essential” to tackle issues from the Covid-19 pandemic to climate security.

“We need to cooperate, and we need to do it effectively,” Blinken said on Tuesday. “Multilateralism is what makes that possible.”

He also highlighted the US contribution to the Covax Facility that provides vaccines to developing countries, and said the US had promised to donate 580 million doses.

Top US diplomat has no plan to meet with China’s foreign minister next week

Blinken’s trip to Europe included stops in Germany, France, Italy and the Vatican as part of a drive to shore up transatlantic ties, and to play up the importance of a more coordinated approach between the US and its European partners against the rise of a more aggressive China.

These efforts were clear at last month’s G7 summit in Britain that culminated in a joint statement criticising China for human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong and the presentation of a rival infrastructure plan to Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative – prompting the response from Beijing that “a small group of countries” could no longer dictate global decisions.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who dialled into the G20 meeting in the southern Italian city of Matera from Beijing, said members needed to uphold multilateralism and work to build an open world economy, and avoid allowing “the fracturing of the global market, the politicisation of cooperation mechanisms and the dominance of ideology in rules and standards”.

The Chinese foreign minister did not attend the meeting in southern Italy in person. Photo: AFP

“We need to pursue openness and inclusiveness, and oppose seclusion and exclusion,” he said, according to a readout from China’s foreign ministry. “Multilateralism is not a high-sounding slogan, let alone a facade for unilateralism.”

Wang also said that there needed to be greater “unity and cooperation” in fighting Covid-19, stressing China’s provision of more than 450 million doses of its vaccines to nearly 100 countries.

“We call on capable countries to avoid restricting exports or engaging in excessive hoarding, in order to make contributions to eliminating the ‘immunisation gap’,” he said.

Both the US and China have backed developing countries’ calls for intellectual property rights to be waived for Covid-19 vaccines, but vaccine access remains a critical issue, particularly in the face of deadly new variants.

Xi Jinping set to call for vaccine pledges at G20 health summit

While Blinken held bilaterals on the sidelines of the G20 with his counterparts including from Japan, India, Saudi Arabia and Argentina, there was no scheduled meeting with Wang.

The last time the two met was during their fiery sit-down in Alaska in March, where both sides publicly sparred over human rights, trade and the international order.

Other representatives in Matera also had harsh words for China, with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas saying it was important to sit down with counterparts from China and Russia – which sent only a deputy minister – to “openly address the fact that we do not think much of their vaccine diplomacy”.

The efforts should not be about “achieving short-term geostrategic advantages”, he said.

Honduras receives a shipment of vaccines donated by the United States, which has promised to provide 580 million doses around the world. Photo: AFP

But even while countries sniped over key issues, the G20 nations signed onto the Matera Declaration, a collective call to work to alleviate food insecurity in the midst of the pandemic.

“Beyond the differences and distances among some countries present at the G20 table, we are all in agreement on climate change, sustainability, on the great issues that today can only be resolved with global cooperation,” Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said.
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Multilateral US vision met with warning