LONDON - Foreign ministers of the Group of Seven (G-7) industrialized nations are meeting in London this week, with climate change, Russia and China among the challenges topping the agenda. It is the first face-to-face G-7 meeting in two years, after the coronavirus pandemic forced the Pittsburgh 2020 foreign ministers' meeting to be held via video link.
Russia was ejected from what was then the G-8 in 2014, after its forceful annexation of Crimea.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday condemned Moscow's recent deployment of troops on Ukraine's border.
"We are focused very much on Russia's actions and what course it chooses to take," Blinken told reporters in London. "President Biden has been very clear for a long time, including before he was president, that if Russia chooses to act recklessly or aggressively, we'll respond. But we are not looking to escalate. We would prefer to have a more stable, more predictable relationship."
FILE - Chinese staffers adjust U.S. and Chinese flags before a session of negotiations between U.S. and Chinese trade representatives, at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, in Beijing, China, Feb. 14, 2019.
The secretary of state also addressed the challenge posed by China.
"It is not our purpose to try to contain China or to hold China down," said Blinken. "What we are trying to do is to uphold the international rules-based order that our countries have invested so much in over so many decades to the benefit, I would argue, not just of our own citizens but of people around the world, including, by the way, China."
Chinese state media accused the United States on Tuesday of "deliberately hyping up the so-called 'China threat''' and attempting to "sow discord between China and the world."
But the G-7 is simply upholding the principles enshrined at its foundation in 1975, said analyst John Kirton of the G7 Research Group at the University of Toronto.
Its aim was "to protect within its own members, and promote globally, the values of open democracy and individual liberty. They were very much threatened by an expanding Russia above all in 1975. And they're still threatened by Russia today, but also China and other authoritarian regimes," said Kirton.
Britain, which is hosting the meeting, as it holds the rotating presidency of the G-7, also invited foreign ministers from Australia, India, South Africa and South Korea to the talks, a demonstration of London's focus on the Indo-Pacific region, Kirton said.
"What we are seeing is the birth of a broader democratic family. And if they're willing to put their countries' names on paper alongside the democratic seven, the G-7 itself, that will be an even more powerful signal," he noted.
G-7 foreign ministers also discussed a coordinated response to the military coup in Myanmar and the violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests.
The U.S. and NATO pullout from Afghanistan, which began this month, was also on the agenda. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab denied reports U.S. allies felt ignored by Washington regarding the decision to withdraw.
"We've had very good consultation on this, and we continue that," Raab told reporters Monday. "We certainly see the priority is protecting our troops in the period between now and September, making sure that we preserve the ability to deal with counterterrorism, that the gains that were hard-won in Afghanistan are not lost, and also ultimately promoting dialogue and a peace process that benefits all Afghans and leaves Afghanistan as stable as possible, as inclusive as possible."
The European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell updated delegates on negotiations with Iran over the future of the 2015 nuclear deal, which the Biden administration is considering rejoining.
"I had the opportunity to talk with my colleagues about the situation of the negotiations of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), the nuclear deal with Iran, sharing with Secretary of State Blinken the situation of these negotiations, which are difficult but going on, and from Friday, we'll start a new round of these negotiations," Borrell said Tuesday.
G-7 foreign ministers also discussed the coronavirus pandemic and issued a statement calling for the recovery to focus on women's employment and girls' education. The ministers pledged to invest $15 billion in the next two years to help women in developing countries find jobs, build sustainable businesses and weather the "devastating" economic effects of COVID-19.
"They will also sign up to new global targets to get 40 million more girls into school and 20 million more girls reading by the age of 10 in low and lower middle-income countries by 2026," the statement said.
Campaigners are calling on the G-7 to ensure that poorer countries get access to coronavirus vaccines. The United Nations says close to 90% of all vaccines administered worldwide have gone to richer nations.
The response to the pandemic will be a focus when Britain hosts the G-7 leaders' summit in June, set to be Joe Biden's first overseas visit as U.S. president.