Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra on June 5 Photo: EPA
Tony Walker
Tony Walker

Why Australia should rethink being part of Trump’s expanded G7

  • By taking part in the US president’s proposed gathering, the Australian prime minister risks unnecessarily offending Beijing
  • Sino-Australian relations are already tenuous, given the latter’s push for an independent inquiry into the origins and spread of Covid-19
When Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison received a phone call from US President Donald Trump on June 2, inviting him to join an expanded G7 gathering at Camp David in September, there was one question he should have asked himself: “What’s in it for us?”
This was a week after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In that week, American misgivings about the direction in which their country was heading crystallised in Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the United States. They continue still.

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Not since the civil rights movement and the death of Martin Luther King in the 1960s has the US witnessed such widespread civil unrest. This is a country divided against itself, with a president who seems unwilling or unable to find the words or actions to address his country’s divisions.

This forms the background to Morrison’s invitation for an event that, on the face of it, is not designed to rally Western democracies dealing with the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

Could Trump’s proposed gathering be nothing more than a photo opportunity for an embattled president? Photo: Shealah Craighead/White House/dpa

Rather, a “G7+” gathering would be aimed at providing an embattled president with a photo opportunity in the middle of what promises to be one of the most bitter presidential election contests in American history.


In other words, Morrison would be a prop in a wider political game.

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Trump has also made no secret of his plans to turn an expanded G7 into a vehicle to criticise China as part of a re-election strategy that involves demonising Beijing.

There are many reasons to criticise China, but a Camp David pile-on is the last thing Morrison needs to associate himself with given the tenuous state of Sino-Australian relations.

The flags of China and Australia are held aloft as the Olympic torch relay passes through Canberra in 2008. Photo: AFP
By taking part, Australia would not only run the risk of looking like a bit player in a US-inspired containment policy aimed at China, but it may also become entangled in a divisive American election campaign in which anti-China sentiment is certain to be present

Beijing’s propaganda that Canberra is at Washington’s beck and call may then become further entrenched, and when the dust has finally settled Trump could be on the cusp of losing the election in any case – the latest polls show a slump in popularity amid widespread disgust at his response to nationwide civil rights demonstrations.

Morrison would be wise to pay attention to the criticisms voiced by a clutch of respected US generals, all of them retired. These include James Mattis, who resigned as defence secretary after Trump capriciously abandoned Kurdish allies in northern Syria.

What would a G7+ look like?

The gathering would comprise the original G7 members – the US, Britain, Germany, France, Canada, Italy and Japan – plus India, South Korea and Australia.
Trump has indicated that he wants Russian leader Vladimir Putin present. G7 founder members, including Canada and the UK, are opposed to Putin’s presence, given Russia’s exclusion from the group after its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

It should also go without saying that a Russian presence at Camp David would be highly provocative domestically in America on the eve of an election, given sensitivities over alleged Russian interference in the 2016 poll.

All other things being equal, there would be legitimate arguments for convening an expanded G7 during a global economic meltdown in the wake of a pandemic.

Camp David, the US president's retreat. Photo: White House

Such a gathering might also consider shifts in the balance of global power occasioned by China’s rise. This is a pressing issue.


However, things are far from equal. Risks outweigh potential rewards.

Given the anti-China bombast emanating from Washington, it would be hard to envisage the gathering at Camp David arriving at a constructive approach removed from Trump’s crude politicking.

Typical of the sort of rhetoric Trump has indulged in recently is an outburst on May 29 in which he said China had “ripped off” the US, “raiding our factories” and “gutting” American industry.

Crude attempts by America to promote a G7+ front against China would be particularly awkward for participants like South Korea and Japan.


South Korea is geographically vulnerable to Chinese pressure, given the unstable security environment in which it finds itself on the Korean peninsula. South Korea’s companies are significant investors in China. Trade between the two countries is strongly in Seoul’s favour.

Japan under Shinzo Abe has been seeking to improve relations with Beijing. He would not want those diplomatic efforts to unravel at a Trump-inspired spectacle in which China feels ganged up on.
Chinese President Xi Jinping had been set to visit Japan this year as part of the warming process. That important mission now looks as if it will be postponed.

Risks for Australia

Like South Korea and Japan, Australia risks unnecessarily offending China to its own detriment.

Morrison has already been given a lesson in Chinese realpolitik after his decision to spearhead the push for an independent inquiry into the origins and spread of Covid-19 produced ferocious resistance from Beijing, making Australia look vulnerable.

By blundering into a thicket of international diplomacy, he has drawn reprisals from China in the form of restrictions on imports of Australian commodities accompanied by inflammatory rhetoric directed at Canberra.

Participation in a Camp David pile-on – if that were to happen – would further inflame this rhetoric and might well lead to additional economic reprisals.


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An interesting historical footnote to all this is that Australia has, in the past, sought membership of the global grouping of like-minded Western democracies that would become the G7.

Malcolm Fraser, who was prime minister from 1975-83, was frustrated in his efforts, as it turned out, by American opposition – on grounds that opening the doors would encourage lobbying by others to be included. In 1979, Japan advanced Australia’s case.

To be clear, Trump’s proposal is not for Australia to join the G7. Along with Japan, South Korea and India, it is being invited to participate.

This is a similar situation to last year when France’s Emmanuel Macron, in his role as convenor, invited Morrison to attend the Biarritz G7.
Morrison, left, talks with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, centre, and French President Emmanuel Macron during last year’s G20 Summit. Photo: dpa

It is also uncertain whether the Camp David event will go ahead at all, given uncertainties that prevail in the world on many different fronts. Will Trump be in a position to convene such a gathering if America remains in turmoil?

Finally, there’s the issue of where an expanded G7 leaves bodies like the G20 and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Under the current circumstances, in which the world is facing economic and other challenges not witnessed in a generation, it would make sense to convene a G20 – as was done in 2008 to combat the global financial crisis – whose membership includes both China and Russia.

In the end, when it comes to the G7+, what’s in it for Australia? Diplomatic risks.

Tony Walker is an adjunct professor at La Trobe University’s School of Communications in Melbourne, Australia

Read the original article at The Conversation