Trudeau and G7 leaders meet to chart path back to ‘normal’
It wasn’t until the jet was in the air that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s trip to the UK for the G7 summit – his first overseas trip since the start of the pandemic – was truly odd.
For reporters gathered at CFB Uplands outside of Ottawa early this morning to board the PM’s transatlantic flight, it was all no stranger. Mandatory masks, temperature checks, health issues, physical distancing and ubiquitous hand sanitizing stations in the airbase hangar are now part of daily life – a routine, grudgingly accepted. Even the view of flight crew members with face shields did not appear out of place.
But what strikes anyone who travels by plane these days is how empty the sky seems. Normally there would be the commotion and roar of commercial traffic, with jets coming and going. Instead, the skies over the highlands were calm this morning, with a direct taxi and take off.
Looking down, the streets of Ottawa were also empty and still in the height of the morning rush hour.
On the one hand, Prime Minister Trudeau’s arrival in Britain today for the G7 summit (he will attend the NATO summit next week) offered a reassuring sign that things are back to normal.
On the other, it was a stark reminder of the distance Canada and the rest of the world must travel to regain what has been lost due to the pandemic.
Getting through COVID-19 and building a resilient economic recovery is the challenge facing the world’s leading democracies as their representatives gather on Friday at Carbis Bay in Cornwall, along Britain’s scenic southwest coast.
Reviving a dying global economy will be the most important task for Western countries in the post-pandemic era, said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is hosting the event.
Discussion of an agreement to share COVID vaccines with the world is quickly becoming one of the most anticipated informal items on the agenda, after the United States announced it was purchasing a half. billion doses of Pfizer to be distributed to countries in need.
Canada should have something to say on the matter, said a senior government official who spoke in the background.
The question of how to deal with a more assertive China is expected to dominate the foreign policy debate among leaders on Saturday.
The G7 is facing calls – both inside and outside the group – to develop a more organized approach to Beijing and the multitude of challenges it presents, democratic, social and economic.
Some observers, like Cherie Wong, CEO of Alliance Canada Hong Kong, want to see a tougher stance in light of China’s recent crackdown on democratic freedoms in the former British colony.
“I want Canada to take a coordinated approach with our G7 allies, whether it’s on sanctions or creating a cohesive strategy towards China,” Wong said.
“What China has historically done is isolate a country and intimidate it. So we need to unite with our allies, not only in the G7, but the G7 is a good place to start.”
The administration of US President Joe Biden has made it a priority to forge an alliance of democratic like-minded nations to deal with aggression from China. Wong said this must be followed by sanctions against China for alleged human rights violations involving both Uyghurs and Hong Kong.
Perhaps sensing which way the wind is blowing, Chinese President Xi Jinping recently insisted that his country must present a softer and softer foreign policy to the world.
It is no coincidence that Xi made his statement on the eve of the G7 summit, said Gordon Houlden, director emeritus of the China Institute at the University of Alberta.
“They are familiar with a diplomatic calendar and a leadership calendar,” Houlden said. “I don’t think the timing is accidental.
“I think the thinking is not driven by the G7 agenda. I think it will be there for some time. But the fact that not only are they saying it, but that they are publishing a fairly broad text What Xi and the leaders are reflecting on the dawn of the G7 indicates a willingness to counter “the momentum towards an alliance,” he added.