By William James, Alexander Ratz and Humeyra Pamuk
LIVERPOOL, England (Reuters) – While Russian President Vladimir Putin keeps the West guessing over Ukraine, it was the might of Chinese President Xi Jinping that garnered the long-term strategic focus when the diplomats from the Group of Seven richest democracies met this weekend.
The United States and its other G7 allies are searching for a coherent response to Xi’s growing assertiveness after China’s spectacular economic and military rise over the past 40 years.Putin was the immediate tactical focus at talks in the English city of Liverpool between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his counterparts. There was support for President Joe Biden’s attempt to support Ukraine and deter Putin with a clear warning of severe economic sanctions.
“There’s a huge amount of convergence about what will unfortunately be necessary if Russia makes that very bad choice,” a senior U.S. State Department official said.
The West is concerned that Russia might be preparing to attack Ukraine. The Kremlin denies it plans to invade Ukraine but has demanded legally binding security guarantees that NATO will not expand further east.
Concerns were raised about alleged Russian disinformation campaigns but there was no clear agreement on, for example, whether or not to slap penalties on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, according to sources with knowledge of the discussions.
Russia was included in what became the G8 in 1997 but was suspended in 2014 after annexing Crimea from Ukraine. Moscow says the G7 – the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan – is making aggressive accusations.
If Putin, 69, was the short-term concern, Xi’s China was the strategic puzzle on everyone’s lips.
There were “very, very intense discussions especially on China,” said one official who attended the talks.
The re-emergence of China as a leading global power is considered to be one of the most significant geopolitical events of recent times, alongside the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union that ended the Cold War.