Foreign ministers of the Group of Seven (G7) nations are gathering in London for their first in-person meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The week is billed by the United Kingdom, which holds the group’s rotating presidency, as a chance to reassert the West’s influence and address issues such as coronavirus recovery, climate change and growing tensions with Russia and China.
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It will launch with talks between UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The ministers will also lay the groundwork for US President Joe Biden’s first scheduled trip abroad since taking office – a June G7 summit in the UK meant to revive cooperation with traditional allies after years of friction under former President Donald Trump.
In addition to G7 member states Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US, the UK has invited ministers from Australia, India, South Africa and South Korea to this week’s event.
The meetings will begin with dinner on Monday evening.
UK and US to discuss Russia, China
Before that, Raab and Blinken will meet to discuss shared goals.
The UK is eager to capitalise on Biden’s willingness to re-engage with global efforts to fight climate change and to restore a nuclear deal with Iran rejected by Trump.
Raab said on Sunday the G7 would look at a proposal to build a rapid response mechanism to counter Russian disinformation, and, in a reference to China, spoke of the need to stand up for open markets and democracy.
Russia denies it is meddling beyond its borders and says the West is gripped by anti-Russian hysteria.
China casts the West as a bully and says its leaders have a post-imperial mindset.
“On all of these areas we want to be absolutely firm, and standing shoulder to shoulder not just with Americans, as important as they are, but also with our wider allies – that’s why the G7 is so important,” Raab said.
Raab and Blinken are also expected to discuss ongoing trade talks with the US, as the UK seeks a so-far elusive deal touted by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as one of the biggest opportunities opened by quitting the European Union.
The meeting comes as the UK steps out of its coronavirus lockdown, but some physical distancing measures will be in place.
When the G7 ministers convene for formal talks on Tuesday and Wednesday, they will have an on-site testing facility and Perspex screens to separate them in meetings, in addition, the UK has enforced limits on the size of each delegation.
The last in-person meeting of foreign ministers from the world’s leading economic powers took place in the seaside resort of Dinard, northwest France, in April 2019.
“The meetings will be a demonstration of how to conduct diplomatic business safely and successfully as we recover from the pandemic,” the UK’s Foreign Office said.
The UK is also gearing up to host the UN’s next climate change summit, COP 26, in the Scottish city of Glasgow in November.
The G7 members’ combined gross domestic product is about $40 trillion – almost half of the global economy.