G7 foreign ministers meet in London for their first face-to-face talks in more than two years on Tuesday, with calls for urgent joined-up action to tackle the most pressing global threats.
China, Myanmar, Libya, Syria and Russia are all on the formal agenda as the ministers from the club of wealthy democracies prepare for a leaders’ meeting in Cornwall, southwest England, next month.
They will also discuss violence in Ethiopia, Iran and North Korea, Somalia, the Sahel and western Balkans, as part of what London said were “pressing geopolitical issues that threaten to undermine democracy, freedoms and human rights”.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab met his US counterpart Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday with both pushing a firm line on the need for a more unified approach.
“The UK’s presidency of the G7 is an opportunity to bring together open, democratic societies and demonstrate unity at a time when it is much needed to tackle shared challenges and rising threats,” Raab said in a statement.
Blinken hammered home the need for a common stance, as he reaffirmed US commitment to the “international rules-based order” to tackle issues from climate change to post-pandemic recovery.
Ministers are meeting under strict coronavirus protocols, with stripped-back delegations and social distancing, including face-masks and perspex screens between speakers.
Britain, which has seen more than 127,500 deaths in the outbreak, is gradually easing virus restrictions as vaccinations increase and cases fall, even as other countries such as India and Brazil endure fresh spikes.
That has prompted calls for more concerted international action, including widespread access to vaccines.
Blinken told a joint news conference with Raab on Monday evening: “Most of the challenges that we face… not a single one of those challenges can be effectively met by any one country acting alone — even the United States, even the United Kingdom.
“There is I think a stronger imperative than at any time since I’ve been involved in these issues to find ways for countries to cooperate, to coordinate, to collaborate.”
– ‘Behaviour and deeds’ –
Ministers from the G7 — Britain, the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan — will also meet counterparts from the European Union, as well as delegates from India, Australia, South Africa, South Korea and ASEAN chair Brunei.
Raab said their attendance was proof of “the increasing demand and need for agile clusters of like-minded countries that share the same values and want to protect the multilateral system”.
Britain, which left the EU last year, is looking to Asia-Pacific countries for new trade and investment opportunities, but also as a reflection of the region’s growing strategic importance.
It wants wider, stronger global commitments on tackling climate change, as it prepares to host the UN climate change summit, COP26, in November.
Close allies Britain and the United States have been increasingly aligned in foreign policy towards geopolitical threats, particularly from Russia and China.
Blinken heads Wednesday to Ukraine, where there is Western concern about Russia’s build-up of forces on the border, Moscow’s treatment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and Belarus.
On North Korea, Blinken said the ball was in Pyongyang’s court if it wanted to engage diplomatically with Washington’s new approach to address the hermit nation’s nuclear ambitions.
On China, which has been accused of repressing its minority Uyghur population and cracking down on rights in Hong Kong, and Russia, Raab said the “door was open” to better ties.
“But it depends on behaviour and deeds,” he said.
On Myanmar, ministers will discuss the February 1 coup and receive a situation report, with Raab expected to urge partners to take tougher action against the military junta, including expanded targeted sanctions.