Discover more from Letters from an American
May 22, 2023
The debt ceiling crisis has deflected attention from actual work of the federal government, which continues.
The meeting of the Group of Seven (G7) in Hiroshima, Japan, which began on May 19 and ended yesterday, emphasized the Biden administration’s focus on preventing the rise of dominant authoritarian powers by ruining Russia’s imperial ambitions and by creating regional partnerships to counter the rise of China. The G7 is a forum made up of democracies with advanced economies and includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The European Union is also a member.
The meeting demonstrated the strength of the G7’s support for Ukraine. The leaders agreed to increase financial and military support for the beleaguered country after Russia’s February 2022 invasion. G7 leaders also announced they would take new steps to isolate Russia economically from the rest of the world, thus weakening its ability to wage war. New sanctions on more than 70 companies and more than 300 individuals and entities around the globe are designed to close off the loopholes and workarounds that have enabled Russian president Vladimir Putin to continue to raise money. (Hence Russia’s retaliatory ban of those who have stood in Trump’s way as an open declaration of solidarity with Trump, who has threatened to cut support for Ukraine if he regains power.)
Gathered in the historic city of Hiroshima, where an American B-29 bomber dropped an atomic bomb on August 6, 1945, ultimately killing more than 140,000 people, members of the G7 condemned Putin’s threats to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine and called for a return to nuclear disarmament. The G7 also said it would hold Russia financially accountable for the damage it has done to Ukraine.
Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky was a surprise visitor to the meeting, his presence a powerful illustration to Putin that the leaders of the G7 are firmly behind Ukraine’s cause. U.K. prime minister Rishi Sunak noted that the G7 was briefly the G8 when Russia was a member before being expelled in 2014 for its illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea. Zelensky’s presence, Sunak said, “demonstrates that brute force and oppression will not triumph over freedom and sovereignty.”
G7 leaders indicated they are united in the attempt to stand up to China. While they reiterated that their countries will continue to trade with China, they vowed to push to establish a level economic playing field between China and other countries, and to “foster resilience to economic coercion.” Just days after the Department of Justice charged a Chinese national—as well as two Russian people and a Greek man working for Russia—with stealing sensitive technologies, the G7 also vowed to protect technologies that could threaten our national security.
The leaders also expressed concerns about China’s record on human rights and “called on China not to conduct interference activities or undermine the integrity of our democratic institutions.”
The meeting also demonstrated support for regional partnerships in the Indo-Pacific and Africa that will counterbalance China. The leaders included in their deliberations guests from Australia, Brazil, and India. They also reached out to countries in Africa by including Comoros, an island nation off southeastern Africa, which is currently chairing the African Union. They included the Cook Islands, an island nation in the South Pacific that is currently chairing the Pacific Islands Forum, a group of 18 nations including Australia and New Zealand. And they included key G7 partners Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Republic of Korea.
The World Bank, an international financial institution with 189 member nations cooperating to make loans and grants to enable low- and middle-income countries to develop capital projects, was at the meeting. So were a number of leaders from private financial, communications, and IT infrastructure institutions, including Citi, Global Infrastructure Partners, Japan Foreign Trade Council, and Nokia. They discussed ways to unlock public and private capital to fund projects in the developing world as part of a way to relieve the mounting debt obligations of low- and middle-income countries, often a result of Chinese investment, and to counter Chinese investment in those regions.
Biden was supposed to go from Hiroshima to Australia for a meeting of leaders of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (known as the Quad), a strategic security group that includes Australia, India, Japan, and the U.S. He had to cancel because of the debt ceiling crisis, so the group met in Japan at the G7, where they issued a statement reaffirming “our steadfast commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific that is inclusive and resilient…. We believe all countries have a role in contributing to regional peace, stability, and prosperity, as well as upholding international law, including the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the rules-based international order. We seek a region where no country dominates and no country is dominated—one where all countries are free from coercion, and can exercise their agency to determine their futures.”
They said they see the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a political and economic group made up of 10 member states, as the central leader of the effort to create a strong Indo-Pacific regional partnership, and they reiterated their support for Pacific island nations, especially those in the Pacific Islands Forum.
Biden was also supposed to go to Papua New Guinea after the G7 for a meeting with the leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum but had to cancel the trip to come home and deal with the debt ceiling crisis. Secretary of State Antony Blinken went instead and today signed a security agreement with the strategically located nation, as well as confirming that the administration is seeking $7.1 billion for 20 years of investments in the region through diplomatic and cultural ties, including new embassies; infrastructure projects; and addressing climate change.
The Pacific Islands Forum responded by reaffirming “our shared vision for a resilient Pacific region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion, and prosperity. We are committed to bolstering Pacific regionalism,” it said, “with a strong and united Pacific Islands Forum at its center.”
A domestic emphasis on regional cooperation appears to have paid off today, at least temporarily as, working with the Department of the Interior, the governors of Arizona, California, and Nevada have agreed on a plan to conserve water in the Colorado River system over the next three years in an effort to rebuild the depleted reservoirs on which 40 million people depend. All seven of the states in the Colorado River Lower Basin have agreed in principle to the plan, which will require the three states to cut about 13% of their water usage in exchange for about $1.2 billion in federal grant money funded by the Inflation Reduction Act. Had the states not come up with their own plan, the administration threatened bigger, unilateral cuts in water usage.
In a statement, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said: “Today’s announcement is a testament to the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to working with states, tribes and communities throughout the west to find consensus solutions in the face of climate change and sustained drought.”
Also today, Vice President Kamala Harris was in Sunnyvale, California, on a visit to Applied Materials, which has just announced it will invest up to $4 billion in a new research and development facility for designing semiconductor-manufacturing tools in collaboration with the chipmakers who will use the tools in their factories. Since the CHIPS and Science Act became law last August, the White House noted, “private companies have announced nearly $140 billion in investments in semiconductor production, supply chains, and R&D to be made over the next decade.”