Trump delays G-7 summit, seeks to invite others to discuss China

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    WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump has said he would postpone the annual Group of Seven (G-7) summit and that he wanted to invite Russia, Australia, South Korea and India to the meeting to discuss China.

    “I’m postponing it because I don’t feel that as a G-7 it properly represents what’s going on in the world,” Mr Trump told reporters travelling with him on board Air Force One last Saturday. “It’s a very outdated group of countries.”

    It was unclear if Mr Trump’s desire to invite the other countries was a bid to permanently expand the G-7. The US currently holds the G-7 presidency of seven industrialised nations, whose other members are Germany, Japan, France, Britain, Canada and Italy. As the host president, Mr Trump can invite whomever he wants.

    Russia was expelled from what was then the G-8 in 2014, after Moscow annexed the Crimea region from Ukraine. Various G-7 governments have rebuffed Mr Trump’s previous calls to readmit Moscow.

    Mr Trump wants to supplement the gathering with those hit by the coronavirus pandemic to discuss the future of China, White House spokesman Alyssa Farah said.

    Inviting countries with geopolitical significance to discuss China, a country that Mr Trump sees as a competitor and adversary, gives him a rationale to host Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    But the sight of Mr Putin appearing in the US – after the American intelligence community determined that Russia interfered in the previous US election to benefit Mr Trump – will inflame his critics and risk discomfiting some of his allies.

    The summit could happen in September, around the time of the United Nations General Assembly, which is slated to begin on Sept 15.

    Or it might be after the Nov 3 election, Mr Trump suggested.

    China was not among Mr Trump’s proposed attendees – as tensions between Washington and Beijing run high over the pandemic and Hong Kong. Instead, he would bring in Australia, which has joined the United States in criticising China over the spread of the coronavirus and has faced economic reprisals as a result.

    OUTDATED GROUP

    I’m postponing it because I don’t feel that as a G-7 it properly represents what’s going on in the world. It’s a very outdated group of countries.

    U.S. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP

    Australia yesterday said it would welcome an official invitation and that there had been contact on the matter between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the US.

    “The G-7 has been a topic of recent high-level exchanges,” an Australian government spokesman said. “Strengthening international cooperation among like-minded countries is valued at a time of unprecedented global challenges.”

    US-Australia ties have been strong, even though recent White House comments on the origins of the coronavirus outbreak have frustrated Canberra’s push for an independent inquiry, sources told Reuters. The two security partners also diverged radically in their management of the pandemic.

    Mr Morrison, unlike some European leaders, has avoided criticising Mr Trump publicly and has teamed up with the US in its tougher stance against China, Australia’s main trading partner.

    South Korea said it was aware of Mr Trump’s invitation and would discuss the matter with the US.

    The decision to postpone the G-7 summit is a retreat for Mr Trump, who had sought to host the group in Washington to show that the US was returning to normal after its Covid-19 outbreak, which has killed more than 105,000 Americans.

    He had only recently indicated that he could hold the huge gathering after all, “primarily at the White House” but also potentially parts of it at the presidential retreat of Camp David in Maryland. Mr Trump had cancelled an in-person G-7 meeting scheduled for March.

    French President Emmanuel Macron has backed the idea of an in-person meeting, said the White House, but Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declined to endorse it, saying there were too many health-related issues. Last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she could not attend.

    The G-7 holds annual meetings to discuss international economic coordination. The work is more important now as virus-hit countries struggle to repair the damage.

    REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG, NYTIMES