View from the summits: the G-7 in Quebec and SCO in Qingdao

View from the summits: the G-7 in Quebec and SCO in Qingdao

This has been a season of summiteering, with the G7 and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meetings taking place last week in Quebec, Canada, and Qingdao, China, respectively. The former is comprised of western democracies that are trans-Atlantic allies plus Japan, primarily maritime heavy weights, while trans-Eurasian continental powers account for the membership of the latter. In a deeper sense, the global state of play between the old, established and new, emerging economies was in some ways evident in the two events.

In Quebec, friction and disarray between the US and its allies dominated the media headlines. President Donald Trump's “America First” doctrine means that even traditionally close partners, who had authored the prescription of a liberal, democratic and free trade-based international order, are expected to sacrifice their “ideological” proclivities to the “actual” requirements of the United States. This means free trade, yes, but no longer at the expense of the US; a rule-based order but with American exceptionalism. US steel and aluminum tariffs are to be applied across the board, including to Canada and the European Union, not just to China.

Washington has irrevocably moved away from global consensus on climate change. President Trump also strongly advocated re-inviting Russia to join the group, and effectively blamed his predecessor, President Barack Obama, for mishandling the annexation of Crimea.

The US under Trump is ruthlessly pragmatic. In making America great again, he will happily disregard the diplomatic niceties. Indeed, Trump has used his personal stamp, and US power and authority, to adjust or even abandon the rules of the game. He disavowed the G7 communique and reacted rather bluntly in a tweet against Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. His priority was clearly Singapore, the venue for his grandstanding summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

In short, the western countries were left a bit shocked at the US nonchalance. On a whole range of political, security and economic issues, they will have to do a lot more if they want to get back in step with their erstwhile patron-in-chief.

At the Shangrila Dialogue in Singapore — an annual inter-governmental security forum organized by independent think tank the International Institute for Strategic Studies — this month, US Defence Secretary James Mattis made it abundantly clear that America’s priority is now Indo-Pacific and not the Atlantic. US military and naval assets are to be deployed in large numbers in this theater. India will, for now, piggy back the US in the Indian Ocean and eventually, as it builds its naval power, take greater responsibility in the region.

It is to be hoped that President Trump will see merit for the US in supporting continental efforts by enabling full and free participation of US corporate enterprises in the Eurasian vistas of cooperation.

Salman Bashir

Such is the immaculate clarity of interests and priorities. But big and small Asia-Pacific states are drawing their own conclusions, especially regarding the fickleness that is inherent in ruthless pragmatism. Moreover, the economic interests of the region, primarily those of the members of the Association of Southeast Asion Nations, warrant a stable cooperative environment. Ever wider circles of economic integration have been worked out and are now radiating in the region, where China and India have increasingly important roles to play.

The SCO summit in Qingdao was a stately, sedate affair, and is the largest conglomeration of emerging powers. Pakistan and India are now full members of the organization, which subscribes to a rule-based trading order and voluntary economic partnerships, places a premium on development and stability, and represents more than a third of the world’s population. It is definitely dedicated to world peace and stability, built on enduring economic partnerships for the advancement of mutual interests.

It is important to note that Pakistan is sometimes referred to as the “zipper” of Eurasia, indicating its readiness to offer its geographic advantages for the promotion of “connectivity” and greater economic integration in Asia — north-south and east-west. This is hugely consequential for the region and the world. Pakistan’s important neighbors, such as China, Iran and Afghanistan, see great merit in this approach. It is for India now to come around to this point of view so that it is not left out from the collective, collaborative and constructive opportunities that are on the Eurasian horizon. 

This season of summiteering has been instructive and offers clues to the way forward. It is to be hoped that President Trump, whose business instincts are sharp and mostly correct, will see merit for the US in supporting continental efforts by enabling full and free participation of US corporate enterprises in the Eurasian vistas of cooperation. This alone will ensure that the US retains its pre-eminence in the world, and that the 21st century will be conducive to development and peace for all the peoples of the world.

• Salman Bashir is a Pakistani diplomat who served as the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan and Ambassador to China, India and Denmark. Twitter: @SalmanB_Isb

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