ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE/SYDNEY – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Saturday he would postpone a Group of Seven summit he had hoped to hold next month until September or later and expand the list of invitees to include Australia, Russia, South Korea and India.
Speaking to reporters on Air Force One during his return to Washington from Cape Canaveral, Florida, Trump said the G7, whose members are the world's most advanced economies, was a "very outdated group of countries" in its current format.
"I'm postponing it because I don't feel that as a G7 it properly represents what's going on in the world," Trump said.
It was unclear whether Trump's desire to invite the additional countries was an effort to permanently expand the G7. On several previous occasions, he suggested Russia be added given what he described as Moscow's global strategic importance.
White House spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said Trump wants the countries to discuss China at the summit.
Trump has attacked Beijing over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which began in China, and on Friday he ordered his administration to begin the process of ending special U.S. treatment for Hong Kong in retaliation for China's decision to impose a new security law on the former British colony.
Australia would welcome an official invitation to the G7 nations and there has been contact on the matter between the prime minister and the United States, a government spokesman said Sunday.
"The G7 has been a topic of recent high-level exchanges," the spokesman said in an emailed comment. "Australia would welcome an official invitation. Strengthening international cooperation among like-minded countries is valued at a time of unprecedented global challenges."
U.S.-Australia ties have been strong, even though recent White House comments on the origins of the coronavirus outbreak have frustrated Australia's push for an independent inquiry, sources have said. The two security partners also diverged radically in their management of the pandemic.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been so far one of very few world leaders to pay a state visit to Washington during Trump's tenure, and both leaders have openly signaled their camaraderie.
Morrison, unlike some European leaders, has avoided criticizing Trump publicly and has teamed up with the United States in its tougher stance against China, Australia's main trading partner.
Relations between Canberra and Beijing have been strained amid Australian accusations of Chinese meddling in domestic affairs and concern about what Australia sees as China's growing influence in the Pacific region.
Meanwhile, South Korea said Sunday that it has not received an invitation to the G7 summit from the U.S. but will discuss the matter with Washington, the Yonhap news agency reported, quoting an official with the presidential Blue House.
"That's what we will discuss with the U.S. side," the official said. "But we've not been notified of the request in advance."
Any invitation to Seoul was likely to will highlight its burgeoning international reputation over its success in handling the coronavirus outbreak, but could also present challenges for South Korean diplomacy if Washington tries to use the forum to heap pressure on Beijing.
Although some former U.S. government officials have voiced a need for reforming the G7, others have pointed to other forums already available — while also pointedly criticizing Trump's apparent desire to have Russian President Vladimir Putin in attendance.
"The G7 is supposed to be a chance to meet with our democratic allies and all those other countries are in the G20 (Group of 20)," former top Obama administration adviser Ben Rhodes wrote on Twitter. "Trump will do anything to get Putin in the mix."
The decision to postpone the G7 summit is a retreat for Trump, who had sought to host the group of major industrialized countries in Washington as a demonstration that the United States was returning to normal after the coronavirus epidemic, which has killed more than 103,000 Americans to date.
Trump had canceled an in-person G7 meeting that was scheduled for March as the virus spread, but had recently sought to revive it.
French President Emmanuel Macron backed the idea of an in-person meeting, according to the White House, but Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declined to endorse it, saying there were too many health-related questions. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said earlier this week she could not attend.
The G7 is made up of the United States, Britain, France, Japan, Germany, Italy and Canada, and the European Union also attends.