Democracies of the world must unite at G7

US President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrive on Air Force One at Cornwall Airport on Wednesday. Picture: Getty Images
US President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrive on Air Force One at Cornwall Airport on Wednesday. Picture: Getty Images

It is easy to dismiss grand gatherings of political leaders as mere talkfests. And it's true that egos will be well massaged at the upcoming summit of G7 prime ministers and presidents. There will be pictures of Scott Morrison and Joe Biden locked in a clinch, hands clutching elbows, faces beaming with smiles like long-lost brothers.

But in the case of this G7, weary cynicism is misplaced. The meeting of the leaders of the world's most economically powerful democracies matters.

The backdrop is the rise of the non-democracies. China is increasingly powerful militarily, and increasingly assertive of that power. Russia is moving ever further from being a democracy. It shamelessly imprisons opponents of Mr Putin. Russian agents have travelled to democracies to kill opponents with impunity.

And those anti-democratic tendencies are mimicked in less powerful countries, from Turkey to Brazil to Hungary. Even in the United States, followers of former president Donald Trump examine ways of defying the will of the majority in future elections.

So this G7 matters as an assertion of democracy, that least imperfect type of government. It matters because of the anti-democratic forces pushing the other way all over the world, but also because it comes after the disarray of the Trump presidency, when American leadership seemed wayward and unpredictable.

After the 2018 summit in Charlevoix in Canada, Mr Trump tweeted criticism of the meeting's host, Justin Trudeau, and repudiated the final joint statement. Who can forget the way Mr Trump scowled when other leaders tried and failed to persuade him not to abandon the Paris Accords on climate change?

It sent a message that the democratic world was all at sea. This summit is a chance to tell Beijing and Moscow (and Budapest and Ankara) that, whatever the differences on policy, these powerful countries are anchored together on the broad aims and values.

With all the talk of the rise of China, we should remember that Australia, the United States, Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom and the European Union countries still produce nearly half of the world's output. One of the reasons Australia hasn't suffered badly from the epidemic is that the US economy is growing so fast.

Our challenge is nothing less than to reinforce, renovate and buttress a world order that favours freedom.

Scott Morrison

Talk of the demise of the United States shouldn't be overdone.

On this, Scott Morrison is on message. "Our challenge is nothing less than to reinforce, renovate and buttress a world order that favours freedom," he said in a speech in Perth. He declared that Australia's "open economic outlook and vibrant civil society" underpinned the resilience of the country when times got tough.

"Our success also gives us the confidence and the means to protect and defend our liberal, pluralist society. To push back against coercion, to maintain our sovereignty and to support others to make decisions that are in their own long-term sovereign interest."

After the disruption of the Trump years, Mr Morrison wants global bodies to come back to centre stage, particularly the World Trade Organization. On this, Mr Morrison will find no opponents in Cornwall.

But it is not so clear that he is in similar accord on climate change, the big issue on which Australia is now perceived as tardy.

The politics are changing, led by Mr Biden. If the tenant in the White House puts the pressure on, for how long can the resident of The Lodge hold out?

Politically astute Mr Morrison should realise which way the new wind is blowing.

This story Democracies of the world must unite at G7 first appeared on The Canberra Times.