Leader Boris Johnson from Great Britain, center, with from left, Italy’s Mario Draghi, Australia’s Scott Morrison, Germany’s Angela Merkel, South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, South Korea’s Moon Jae-in, American Joe Biden, France’s Emmanuel Macron, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, Japan’s Yoshihide Suga and Charles Michel from the European Council will meet on Saturday at the G7 summit in Cornwall, England. Leon Neal / AP hide caption
Leon Neal / AP
Leon Neal / AP
CARBIS BAY, England (AP) – The leaders of the world’s largest economies on Saturday unveiled an infrastructure plan for developing countries to compete with China’s global initiatives, but they sought consensus on how Beijing violently called for human rights abuses can be.
Citing China for its forced labor practices is part of President Joe Biden’s campaign to convince democratic leaders to come up with a more unified front to compete economically with Beijing. But while they agreed to compete against China, there was less agreement on how opposing the group should take a public position.
Canada, Britain and France largely supported Biden’s position, while Germany, Italy and the European Union showed more reluctance during the first session of the Group of Seven Summit on Saturday, according to two senior officials in the Biden government. The officers who briefed the reporters were not authorized to discuss the private meeting in public and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The communique summarizing the meeting’s commitments was just being written and the content would not be clear until after the summit was published on Sunday. White House officials said late Saturday that they believe China could be held accountable in some form for “non-market policies and human rights abuses”.
At his first summit as president, Biden made it a point to meet with various heads of state and government, from French President Emmanuel Macron to German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Japanese Yoshihide Suga and Australia’s Scott Morrison Day after meeting British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as if to try personally to ward off memories of the chaos that his predecessor often brought to these gatherings.
Macron told Biden that cooperation was needed on a number of issues and told the American president that “it’s great to have a US president in the club and to be very cooperative.” Relations between the allies were strained during the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency and his “America first” foreign policy.
Merkel, for her part, downplayed differences over China and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would transport natural gas from Russia to Germany bypassing Ukraine.
“The atmosphere is very cooperative, it is characterized by mutual interest,” said Merkel. “There are very good, constructive and very lively discussions in the sense that you want to work together.”
White House officials said Biden wanted the leaders of the G-7 countries – the US, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and Italy – to speak with one voice against forced labor practices against China’s Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities. Biden hopes the denunciation will be part of a joint statement released the Sunday after the summit ends, but some European allies are reluctant to part with Beijing so forcefully.
China had become one of the more compelling sections of the Wealthy Nations Summit, the first since 2019. Last year’s meeting was canceled due to COVID-19, and recovery from the pandemic dominates this year’s discussions, with leaders expected to they undertake to exchange at least 1 billion vaccinations with struggling countries.
The allies also took the first steps in submitting an infrastructure proposal called “Build Back Better for the World,” a name that echoes Biden’s campaign slogan. The plan calls for hundreds of billions of dollars to be spent working with the private sector while adhering to climate standards and labor practices.
It is designed to compete with China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, which has created a network of projects and sea routes that meander around much of the world, mainly Asia and Africa. Critics say China’s projects often create massive debt and expose nations to undue influence from Beijing.
Britain also wants the world’s democracies to become less dependent on the Asian economic giant. The UK government said Saturday’s discussions would focus on “how we can shape the global system to serve our people in support of our values,” including by diversifying supply chains, which are currently heavily dependent on China.
Not every European power has seen China in such a harsh light as Biden, who described the rivalry with China as defining competition for the 21st century. However, there are some signs that Europe is ready to carry out stronger controls.
Before Biden took office in January, the European Commission announced that it had reached an agreement with Beijing that would allow Europe and China better access to each other’s markets. The Biden government had hoped to have consultations on the pact.
But the deal was put on hold and in March the European Union announced sanctions against four Chinese officials involved in human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Beijing responded by punishing several members of the European Parliament and other Europeans who were critical of the Chinese Communist Party.
Biden government officials see an opportunity to take concrete action to speak out against China’s reliance on forced labor as an “insult to human dignity.”
While the call to China in the G-7 communiqué would not result in immediate penalties for Beijing, a senior administrative official said the action would send a message that leaders are serious about defending human rights and working together to bring the operation to life to eliminate forced labor.
An estimated 1 million people or more – most of them Uyghurs – have been detained in re-education camps in China’s western Xinjiang region in recent years, according to researchers. The Chinese authorities are charged with imposing forced labor, systematic forced birth control, torture and separation of children from imprisoned parents.
Beijing denies allegations of crimes.
Johnson, the host of the summit, also welcomed the leaders of the “host nations” South Korea, Australia and South Africa as well as the head of the United Nations to the summit in order to “intensify cooperation between the democratic and technologically advanced nations of the world”.
The guides planned to attend a barbecue night on Saturday night, complete with toasted marshmallows, hot butter rum, and a performance by a sea shanty troupe.
India has also been invited but its delegation is not attending in person due to the severe coronavirus outbreak in the country.
Biden ends the trip on Wednesday with a meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Geneva. The White House announced on Saturday that it would not hold a joint press conference afterwards, removing the opportunity for comparison with availability after the 2018 Helsinki Summit of Trump and Putin, where Trump sided with Moscow over his own intelligence services. Only Biden will contact the news media after the meeting.
Putin said in an interview with NBC News that US-Russia relations had “deteriorated to a rock bottom in recent years”.
He added that while Trump was a “talented” and “colorful” person, Biden was a “career man” in politics who had “some advantages, some disadvantages, but there will be no impulse-based movements” by the US president.