G7 Research Group G7 Information Centre
Summits |  Meetings |  Publications |  Research |  Search |  Home |  About the G7 Research Group
University of Toronto

G7 Performance on China, 1975–2021

Alissa Wang, with Duja Muhanna, G7 Research Group
June 27, 2021

China attracted far more attention and action at the G7's Cornwall Summit on June 11–13, 2021, than at any G7 summit since the first in 1975. This produced the central question: just how much bigger, bolder and broader was the G7's treatment of China this year and how well will the G7 leaders' paper proclamations turn into real action as their governments comply with the summit commitments on China in the coming year? To start the search for an answer, this analysis reviews the conclusions and commitments on the China that G7 summits made in the past, compares those with their Cornwall performance, and suggests how that performance can be improved.

Deliberation: Summit Conclusions

China has been a minor but increasingly significant subject for G7 summit public deliberations, as recorded in the conclusions of the communiqués issued at summits in the leaders' name. From 1975 to 2021, the G7 produced 6,565 words on the subject of China. It did so in four distinct phases, separated by periods during which China received no attention.

In the first phase, from 1987 to 1992, the G7 first mentioned China. It devoted 73 words to China in 1987, then 208 in 1989, 345 in 1990, 73 in 1991, and 95 in 1992. In the second phase, from 1995 to 1997 it devoted 112 words China in 1995, 337 in 1996 and 247 in 1997. The third, short phase from 2000 to 2003 produced 41 words in 2000, 62 in 2001, and 106 in 2003.

The fourth phase, from 2005 to 2018, was the longest and strongest until 2021. There was continued and sustained deliberation on China at every G7 summit. It began with 105 words in 2005, increased dramatically to 530 in 2006, peaked at 665 words in 2009, and ended with 200 words in 2018.

The fifth phase, in 2021, followed an absence of attention in 2019 and 2020. At the Cornwall Summit, the G7 dedicated 566 words to China, the second highest ever. This could be the launch of a new multi-year phase.

Decision Making: Summit Commitments

G7 decision making on China, through the production on collective, public, precise, future-oriented politically binding commitments made at summits, has followed a similar cadence in general terms (see Appendix A). G7 commitments on China have been rare, with only 18 commitments made since the summit's start in 1975. There were two in 1990 and one in 1995. After a long gap there were five in 2007, one each in 2008, 2009, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, and, most recently, a spike to four commitments in 2021. The highest number of commitments was made in 2007, when the summit made five commitments with regards to the Heiligendamm Process, in which China was a participant. (China was invited to the summit from 2005 to 2009.) The second highest was the four in 2021, when China was now clearly on the outside.

Commitments on China spanned several important component subjects. They included human rights and democracy, investment, climate, energy, development, and regional security (specifically the South and East China Seas).

Phases of G7 Performance on China

Overall, performance trends in G7 deliberation and decision making produce four major phases of G7 performance on China.

Phase I, 1987–1992: A Solid Start Focused on Human Rights

In the first phase, G7 deliberation on China was solid. An average 132 words were dedicated to China at each summit from 1987 to 1992. Yet decision making was very small. Only two commitments were made, both at the 1990 Houston Summit. Both focused on the G7's measures in response to the Tiananmen Square incident of 1989.

The G7 first mentioned China by name at the 1987 Venice Summit in the Chairman's Statement on Political Issues. From 1987 to 1992, it discussed China in regards to a wide range of subjects,  including economic reforms, climate change, regional security, and non-proliferation, but with a focus on human rights and democracy.

The G7's attitude toward China was a mix of being critical and conciliatory. The G7 expressed optimism about China's economic reforms, while also repeatedly condemning the Tiananmen Square incident.

Phase 2, 1995–1997: The Hong Kong Focus

In the second phase, from 1995 to 1997, G7 performance was again strong on deliberation but weak on decision making. An average 232 words were dedicated to China during this phase, which was an improvement from the first phase. Decision making was almost non-existent. Only one commitment was made, in 1995, as a general commitment to pursue G7 dialogue with China.

Deliberation focused mainly on the handover of Hong Kong. The G7 also addressed the territorial dispute in the South China Sea, and China's role in the treaty establishing a nuclear weapon free zone in Southeast Asia.

Phase 3, 2000–2004: The World Trade Organization Focus

In the third phase, from 2000 to 2004, the G7 had its weakest performance on China. Average deliberation was the lowest among all phases, at only 70 words. No commitments were made.

The focus was on trade. At both the 2000 Okinawa Summit and the 2001 Genoa Summit, the G8 (now with Russia added) welcomed the progress made on China's accession to the World Trade Organization. At the 2003 Evian Summit, G8 leaders briefly stated that they held discussions with leaders of emerging and developing countries, including China, to exchange views on growth and international cooperation.

Phase 4, 2005–2018: Broadening and Continuous Engagement

The fourth phase, from 2005 to 2018, was by far the strongest phase of G7/8 performance on China. There was sustained attention to China in all of the summits, with an average 293 words, the highest average among all the phases. In addition, the G7/8 began making an increasing number of binding political commitments on China.

From 2005 to 2013, G7/8 leaders discussed a wide range of issues on China, including climate change, the Iranian nuclear issue, energy, investment and development. From 2014 to 2018, G7 deliberation on China focused mainly on the South and East China Seas crisis.

This phase was propelled by the Heiligendamm Process. In 2007, the G8 made a historic high of five commitments on China in the context of the Heiligendamm Process, including commitments to cooperate with China on investment, research and innovation, climate change, energy, and development. In 2008 and 2009, the G8 reaffirmed its commitment to the Heiligendamm process. From 2014 to 2017, one commitment was made at each annual summits, all focused on the South and East China Seas.

This phase also saw a turning point in the attitude of the G7/8 toward China. The first part of this phase saw a positive and cooperative attitude. Since 2014, the G7, now again without Russia as a member, turned toward a more critical attitude.

Conclusion

G7 performance on China has been weak but slowly increasing, as China has become an increasingly important area of G7/8 deliberation and decision making. There was a great spike at Cornwall in 2021.

Overall, G7/8 performance was stronger on deliberation and weaker in decision making. China has been discussed in the context of a wide range of issues, few concrete decisions were made in the form of politically binding commitments. In contrast to the broad treatment under deliberation, there were only three main subjects on which the G7/8 made binding commitments related to China: human rights and democracy (in response to Tiananmen), economic cooperation (in the context of the Heiligendamm Process) and regional security (in response to the South China Sea crisis).

The 2021 summit at Cornwall saw a peak in performance. Deliberation and decision making were both high. The G7 made commitments on human rights (with respect to Xinjiang and Hong Kong), economic reforms (especially on China's allegedly non-market policies) and on investigating the origins of COVID-19 in China.

Policy Recommendations

To further engage with China and to truly open up opportunities for dialogue and cooperation, the G7 should aim to back up its wide-ranging deliberations on China with concrete commitments. So far, commitments have mostly related to sensitive and contentious political issues such as Tiananmen, the South and East China Seas, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and non-market practices. There are deliberations on cooperating with China in a wide range of areas of potential global cooperation such as climate change, investment, research and innovation, development and energy, but very little concrete and binding commitments have been made in these areas. Unfortunately, the cooperative spirit of the Heiligendamm Process has largely been lost and replaced by a spirit of antagonism. The G7, in the near future, should fix this imbalance to pave the way toward a more mutually beneficial and globally beneficial, engagement with China.

Research Recommendations

Two areas for further research stand out. The first is to assess G7 compliance with the leaders' 18 commitments on China, to see how much those commitments matter in the subsequent practical political world and beyond. The second is to conduct detailed process tracing of how the summit commitments were negotiated, shaped and agreed. This could start with those made at the Cornwall Summit, where US president Joe Biden, often backed by the leaders of the United Kingdom, Canada and France, preferred commitments that more directly and explicitly challenged China's behaviour than the leaders of Germany and Italy did.

[back to top]


Appendix A: G7/8 Commitments on China, 1975–2021

Year

# commitments

% total commitments

Component subjects

1975

0

0

 

1976

0

0

 

1977

0

0

 

1978

0

0

 

1979

0

0

 

1980

0

0

 

1981

0

0

 

1982

0

0

 

1983

0

0

 

1984

0

0

 

1985

0

0

 

1986

0

0

 

1987

0

0

 

1988

0

0

 

1989

0

0

 

1990

2

2/78 (0.026)

Human rights (Tiananmen)

1991

0

0

 

1992

0

0

 

1993

0

0

 

1994

0

0

 

1995

1

1/78 (0.013)

Dialogue with China

1996

0

0

 

1997

0

0

 

1998

0

0

 

1999

0

0

 

2000

0

0

 

2001

0

0

 

2002

0

0

 

2003

0

0

 

2004

0

0

 

2005

0

0

 

2006

0

0

 

2007

5

5/330 (0.015)

Heiligendamm Process (investment, research and innovation, climate change, energy, development)

2008

1

1/296 (0.003)

Heiligendamm Process

2009

1

1/254 (0.004)

Heiligendamm Process

2010

0

0

 

2011

0

0

 

2012

0

0

 

2013

0

0

 

2014

1

1/141 (0.0071)

South and East China Seas

2015

1

1/376 (0.003)

South and East China Seas

2016

1

1/342 (0.003)

South and East China Seas

2017

1

1/180 (0.006)

South and East China Seas

2018

0

0

 

2019

0

0

 

2020

0

0

 

2021

4

NA

COVID-19 origins, non-market policies, Human Rights (Xinjiang, Hong Kong)

Total

18

17/5987 (0.003)

 

Average

0.38

 

Data compiled by Duja Muhanna, G7 Research Group, June 15, 2021.

List of G7 Summit Commitments on China

1990 Houston, United States

  1. [We acknowledge some of the recent developments in China, but believe that the prospects for closer cooperation will be enhanced by renewed political and economic reform, particularly in the field of human rights. ] We agree to maintain the measures put into place at last year's Summit, as modified over the course of this year.
  2. [We acknowledge some of the recent developments in China, but believe that the prospects for closer cooperation will be enhanced by renewed political and economic reform, particularly in the field of human rights. We agree to maintain the measures put into place at last year's Summit, as modified over the course of this year.] We will keep them under review for future adjustments to respond to further positive developments in China. For example, in addition to existing lending to meet basic human needs, we will explore whether there are other World Bank loans that would contribute to reform of the Chinese economy, especially loans that would address environmental concerns.

1995 Halifax, Canada

  1. [We welcome the emerging dialogue and cooperation in and with the Asia-Pacific region in various forms including the ASEAN Regional Forum. We welcome China's growing participation in international and regional fora dealing with political, economic and security issues.] Each of us will pursue our respective dialogues with China in the interests of a more stable and prosperous world.

2007 Heiligendamm, Germany

  1. [Today's purposeful discussions between the G8 and Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa mark an important step towards an equal and enduring partnership for building the framework conditions of a globalized and competitive world economy. In a globalizing world, we have to look beyond national and regional boundaries and work together. Towards this endeavour, we commit to cooperate in the following fields:] Promoting cross border investment to our mutual benefit… To this end, we shall work together to promote more favourable conditions in our countries for investment, both domestic and foreign, with the aim of fostering economic growth and sustainable development.
  2. [Today's purposeful discussions between the G8 and Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa mark an important step towards an equal and enduring partnership for building the framework conditions of a globalized and competitive world economy. In a globalizing world, we have to look beyond national and regional boundaries and work together. Towards this endeavour, we commit to cooperate in the following fields:] Promoting Research and Innovation… We affirm our commitment for further cooperation in capacity building, human resource development and public awareness programmes in the field of intellectual property.
  3. [Today's purposeful discussions between the G8 and Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa mark an important step towards an equal and enduring partnership for building the framework conditions of a globalized and competitive world economy. In a globalizing world, we have to look beyond national and regional boundaries and work together. Towards this endeavour, we commit to cooperate in the following fields:] Fighting Climate Change:
    We reaffirm our commitment to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and to its objective through both mitigation and adaptation in accordance with our common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. On this basis and taking into account the scientific knowledge as represented in the recent IPCC reports, we remain committed to contribute our fair share to tackle climate change in order to stabilize green house gas concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.
  4. [Today's purposeful discussions between the G8 and Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa mark an important step towards an equal and enduring partnership for building the framework conditions of a globalized and competitive world economy. In a globalizing world, we have to look beyond national and regional boundaries and work together. Towards this endeavour, we commit to cooperate in the following fields:] Energy
    … We confirm our commitment to promote energy efficiency, through cost-effective solutions, to advance the effective use of fossil fuels, such as the clean coal technology, and to increase the use of cleaner and renewable energy sources, such as biofuels and biomass, as an important step towards secure, stable and competitive energy supplies for achieving sustainable development.
  5. [Today's purposeful discussions between the G8 and Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa mark an important step towards an equal and enduring partnership for building the framework conditions of a globalized and competitive world economy. In a globalizing world, we have to look beyond national and regional boundaries and work together. Towards this endeavour, we commit to cooperate in the following fields:] Development, particularly in Africa…We commit to embark on a high-level dialogue on specific challenges as proposed by the G8 (Heiligendamm Process) as a follow up to continue our discussion in a more structured manner for a period of two years until the G8 Summit in 2009 where we will review the progress made on the following issues: Promoting cross border investment to our mutual benefit, Promoting Research and Innovation, Development, particularly Africa, and Sharing Knowledge for improving Energy Efficiency.

2008 Hokkaido-Toyako, Japan

  1. [We look forward to discussing these issues reflected in the interim report with the leaders of Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa on 9 July.] We reiterate our commitment to the Process and look forward to receiving a comprehensive concluding report at the G8 Summit in 2009.

2009 L'Aquila, Italy

  1. [In 2007 in Heiligendamm our thirteen countries took the initiative to begin an equal and enduring partnership on key issues on the global agenda. We have carried forward our overall dialogue in an open, transparent and constructive manner and have built common understanding and trust — as highlighted in the annexed Concluding Report. This dialogue adds value in the search for shared solutions and complements formal negotiations in multilateral institutions and fora.] We will cooperate in a stable and structured manner with a view to reaching a common understanding on key issues to advance the global agenda.

2014 Brussels, Belgium

  1. We remain committed to international cooperation to combat piracy and other maritime crime, consistent with international law and internationally recognised principles of jurisdiction in international waters. [We are deeply concerned by tensions in the East and South China Sea.]

2015 Elmau, Germany

  1. We are committed to maintaining a rules-based order in the maritime domain based on the principles of international law, in particular as reflected in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. [We are concerned by tensions in the East and South China Seas.]

2016 Ise Shima, Japan

  1. We reiterate our commitment to maintaining a rules-based maritime order in accordance with the principles of international law as reflected in UNCLOS, to peaceful dispute settlement supported by confidence building measures and including through legal means as well as to sustainable uses of the seas and oceans, and to respecting freedom of navigation and overflight…[We are concerned about the situation in the East and South China Seas, and emphasize the fundamental importance of peaceful management and settlement of disputes.]

2017 Taormina, Italy

  1. We reaffirm our commitment to maintaining a rules-based order in the maritime domain based on the principles of international law, including as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and to the peaceful settlement of maritime disputes through diplomatic and legal means, including arbitration. [We remain concerned about the situation in the East and South China Seas and strongly opposed to any unilateral actions that could increase tensions. We urge all parties to pursue demilitarization of disputed features.]

2021 Cornwall, UK

  1. [Strengthening transparency and accountability, including reiterating our commitment to the full implementation of, and improved compliance with, the International Health Regulations 2005. This includes investigating, reporting and responding to outbreaks of unknown origin.] We also call for a timely, transparent, expert-led, and science-based WHO-convened Phase 2 COVID-19 Origins study including, as recommended by the experts' report, in China.
  2. With regard to China, and competition in the global economy, we will continue to consult on collective approaches to challenging non-market policies and practices which undermine the fair and transparent operation of the global economy.
  3. […we will promote our values, including by calling on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to] Xinjiang
  4. […we will promote our values, including by calling on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to] those rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law.

 

[back to top]


G7 Information Centre

Top of Page
This Information System is provided by the University of Toronto Libraries and the G7 Research Group at the University of Toronto.
Please send comments to: g7@utoronto.ca
This page was last updated June 27, 2021.

All contents copyright © 2021. University of Toronto unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved.