Empathy is key to restoring G7’s vitality

The first Group of Seven summit to be held in person in two years is proof that we have begun to see signs of hope, an indication that the world is finally emerging from a long spell of darkness thanks to progress in vaccinations.

Countries that have always restricted their people’s freedom, like China and Russia, are using their progress in dealing with COVID-19 to claim that authoritarian governments can handle such problems better than democracies like the G7 nations.

Yet photos of the G7 leaders taking a congenial stroll on the beach in between discussion sessions sends the message that we can get social activity back to normal with our values and methods.

The change in the U.S. president from Donald Trump, who advocated a policy of “America First,” to Joe Biden, who values multilateral coordination, has also helped the G7 to reunite.

In recent years, the presence of the G7 has weakened, as global challenges have become ever more difficult to resolve without the involvement of emerging economies such as China. The Group of Eight, which included Russia, did not last long, and the different values among the Group of 20 — which comprises 19 major economies including China and Russia, as well as the European Union — prevents its members from reaching an accord on issues that transcend economic spheres.

The prestige of the G7 has been diminished to such an extent that some have argued a Group of Two led by the United States and China, or a Group of Six that excluded the United States due to the advent of Trump, would be preferable to the G7. Others have advocated the extreme idea of a Group of Zero; in other words, saying there is no need for any such group. After all, didn’t the G7 arrogantly force its values on other countries, including developing ones, without giving due consideration to the differences in their situations?

In the meantime, China has used its economic power as a lever to get into developing countries and increase its influence over them. In the battle against COVID-19, China put developing nations in its debt by supplying them with face masks and Chinese-made vaccines, with a sidelong glance at the G7 countries that were fully occupied with coping with the virus.

It was symbolic that although 39 countries at the United Nations, including the G7 countries, expressed grave concern on issues connected with Hong Kong and ethnic minorities, more countries supported China.

The G7 is changing its approach amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Taking the lead on COVAX, an international framework to jointly purchase and distribute COVID-19 vaccines, the G7 is seeking a different diplomatic policy from China, which wants favors in return. The G7 seeks to make friends based on empathy instead of compulsion.

It may be less efficient, but democracy can work and is better able to make people happy than authoritarian states. The G7 must strive to continue demonstrating that through its own actions, not just continual criticism of China.