Blinken and Top Diplomats Stress Unity on Russia and China
Top diplomats from the United States and the rest of the Group of 7 nations closed a three-day meeting in Japan on Tuesday with a forceful statement of unity against new assertiveness by both Russia and China, drawing a firm line on tight cooperation on security as well as economic issues.
The show of unity came after a monthslong diplomatic charm offensive by Xi Jinping, China’s leader, in which he made a point of courting European officials in Beijing and trying to peel them away from the United States. The statement by the diplomats amounted to a declaration by a core of liberal countries rallying to push back against what many of their officials called the separate predations of Russia and China.
But the discussions in Japan failed to address the thorniest issue in the countries’ dealings with China: How to reconcile their opposition to Beijing’s strategic and military goals while continuing to maintain deep trade ties with the world’s second-largest economy. Antony J. Blinken, the U.S. secretary of state, acknowledged Tuesday that each nation had “consequential relations” with China. Further competing visions could emerge within the group on how to balance that main tension in their ties.
As the United States and allied nations grapple with questions about their unity in dealing with Russia’s wartime aggression and China’s growing assertiveness, Mr. Blinken stressed on Tuesday at the close of the meetings in Japan that the countries spoke with one voice.
The coalition “from the get-go has led the world in galvanizing and sustaining support for Ukraine,” Mr. Blinken said at a news conference. Its members “stand with Ukraine,” he said, as the besieged country prepares for an important counteroffensive against Russia.
On China, Mr. Blinken said, the allies “are resolved and united in the need for candid discussions with Beijing about its unfair trade practices” and “its actions that undermine the international rules that all nations benefit from.” He said they are united too, on pushing back on China’s partnership with Russia.
The top diplomats from the Group of 7 nations — the United States, Japan, Canada, Britain, France, Germany and Italy, as well as the European Union — arrived in the Japanese resort hill town of Karuizawa on Sunday at a critical period of diplomacy for the allied governments.
In recent weeks, they have faced growing questions about how united they are on their approaches to the Chinese leadership on trade and security, and whether they can stay firm on their resolutions to help Ukraine win its grinding war against the Russian invaders.
The question of whether the allies would fracture over strategy, particularly on issues around China and its military actions aimed at the de facto independent island of Taiwan, has simmered because of conciliatory remarks that President Emmanuel Macron of France made during his visit earlier this month to Beijing.
The clutch of diplomats in Japan, which included Catherine Colonna of France, appeared to put aside any differences in broad outlook or tactics to focus on common approaches to policy.
They did so with insistent prodding from Japanese officials, underscoring the growing role that Japan is playing in unifying disparate viewpoints and trying to ensure that the Europeans align themselves with American and Japanese security interests and efforts to counterbalance China. Japan’s leadership in this regard was given a boost when Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met with embattled Ukrainians in Kyiv in late March, a demonstration of the notion that Japan shares security interests with the Europeans and vice versa.
The show of unity also underscored the limits of recent diplomatic outreach by Mr. Xi. While officials from virtually every nation are eager to maintain trade ties with China, fewer of them — especially those from Europe — are willing to voice solidarity with China’s strategic visions, including its claims over Taiwan and other territories on its periphery. European officials have a much greater affinity for President Biden, a believer in strong trans-Atlantic ties.
Mr. Blinken’s remarks on Tuesday echoed the first line of the communiqué issued before noontime by the Group of 7 foreign ministers, which said the countries “underline our strong sense of unity as the world navigates grave threats to the international system, including Russia’s continued war of aggression against Ukraine.” The emphasis on that message now was notable; the communiqué released at the foreign ministers’ meeting last year, in Germany, did not stress “unity” at the very top.
“We remain committed to intensifying sanctions against Russia, coordinating and fully enforcing them,” the statement said, “and countering Russia’s and third parties’ attempts to evade and undermine our sanctions measures. We reiterate our call on third parties to cease assistance to Russia’s war, or face severe costs.”
That message appeared directed at Iran, China and several other countries. Iran has given weapons aid and training to Russia, while China has provided Moscow with important diplomatic support. Chinese officials have so far refrained from sending artillery shells or other arms to Russia, though U.S. officials warn that Beijing has kept that option open. A recent leaked U.S. government document labeled “top secret” said that leaders of Egypt, a U.S. ally and beneficiary of significant annual American military aid, had discussed producing up to 40,000 rockets and secretly shipping them to Russia.
The communiqué also emphasized support for efforts by President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to “promote a comprehensive, just and lasting peace” consistent with principles of the United Nations Charter — an implicit rebuke of China’s declarations of recent months that it was leading a peace initiative on Russia’s war in Ukraine.
American officials say China is trying to create a smoke screen to allow President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to secure his territorial gains in Ukraine and regroup his forces. But some European officials have been more circumspect about China’s efforts, and several countries, notably Brazil, have endorsed China’s statements.
In leading this year’s meetings of the Group of 7 nations, Japanese officials have sought to further highlight difficult issues in Asia — particularly China’s assertive actions in disputed areas of the South and East China Seas; its aggression toward Taiwan; and its attempts at economic coercion. The first working session of the meeting, a dinner on Sunday, was about China and North Korea, whose constant missile tests have alarmed Japan.
The first line of the communiqué in the section on China had language that was not in the foreign ministers’ statement last year: “We recognize the importance of engaging candidly with and expressing our concerns directly to China.”
Yoshimasa Hayashi, the foreign minister of Japan, who presided over the three-day meeting, said at his own news conference on Tuesday that “as the G7, we shared concerns about China’s expanding nuclear arsenal and affirmed the importance of transparency.”
“We strongly urged China to swiftly join talks with the U.S. aimed at reducing strategic risks,” he added.
In Beijing, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin, responded at a daily news conference to the comments on China’s nuclear buildup, saying that it “always follows a nuclear strategy that is defensive in nature.”
And he lashed out at the conclave in Japan. “The G7 foreign ministers’ meeting has grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs and maliciously smeared and discredited China,” he said. “The communiqué is full of arrogance and prejudice with the intention of harming China. We deplore and reject this.”
Earlier this month, Mr. Macron traveled to Beijing with a delegation of about 50 business executives and expressed confidence in Mr. Xi, taking a different approach than the confrontational stand of the Biden administration.
On the return flight to Paris, Mr. Macron told reporters that Europe needed to establish a foreign policy independent from that of the United States, and that France was not an American “vassal” and would not be dragged into a conflict with China over Taiwan, whose government American leaders support with weapons aid.
Mr. Macron later said in Amsterdam that France had remained consistent in supporting the maintenance of the “status quo” over Taiwan, in which Taiwanese leaders maintain the island’s democratic self-governance but do not provoke China by declaring independence.
The French leader’s earlier remarks set off a firestorm among officials and policy analysts in Washington, who saw them as insensitive or offensive. They asserted that Mr. Macron should be showing strong support for Washington’s efforts to constrain China, and on the issue of Taiwan in particular. At the very least, they said, Mr. Macron should do that as a show of gratitude for the billions of dollars of military and economic aid that the U.S. government has given Ukraine in its resistance against Russia, which France and other European nations see as the most important foreign policy issue in at least a generation.
President Biden has said repeatedly that Russia is a medium-term problem, while China poses the greatest long-term challenge to an American-led global coalition and institutions.
Some European analysts praised Mr. Macron’s Gaullist philosophy of a Europe distanced from American policies, while others criticized him.
Annalena Baerbock, the foreign minister of Germany, traveled to China soon after Mr. Macron made his trip and took a more confrontational approach with officials there. She represented Germany at the Group of 7 meeting in Japan, and she often eagerly agrees with Mr. Blinken in public on major issues.
Officials in Berlin are split on how to craft policy on China, and Olaf Scholz, Germany’s chancellor, took an approach similar to Mr. Macron’s when he traveled to Beijing in November to meet with Mr. Xi, bringing a large business delegation with him.
A senior State Department official said on Monday night, after the first full day of meetings, that the European officials who had visited Beijing recently had all gotten commitments in face-to-face meetings that China would not send weapons to Russia for use in Ukraine.
The official said the European visitors also stressed the importance of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.
Daisuke Wakabayashi contributed reporting from Seoul.