President Joe Biden targeted China at Saturday’s G7 session and pushed European allies hard to follow his lead but his fellow leaders didn’t immediately agree on how to criticize Beijing’s labor practices.
Biden’s tough stance was part of his campaign to unit European leaders against the growing economic might of China. But, while there was agreement to work on the issue, there was less unity on how adversarial a position the group should take.
Canada, the United Kingdom and France largely agreed with Biden’s exhortation to condemn China’s forced labor practices, while Germany, Italy and the European Union showed more hesitancy in Saturday’s first session of the Group of Seven summit, according to a senior Biden administration official who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the plans publicly.
White House officials have said Biden wants G-7 leaders to speak in a single voice against forced labor practices targeting Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities.
Biden hopes the denunciation will be part of a joint communique to be released Sunday when the summit ends, but some European allies are reluctant to so forcefully split with Beijing.
China had become one of the more compelling sublots of the wealthy nations summit on the freshly raked sand of Carbis Bay in southwest England for their first gathering since 2019. Last year´s gathering was canceled because of COVID-19, and recovery from the pandemic is dominating this year’s discussions, with members of the wealthy democracies’ club expected to commit to sharing at least 1 billion vaccine shots with struggling countries.
Earlier, a senior administration official said Biden was challenging his fellow leaders to reflect their own standards in dealings with China.
‘This is not just about confronting or taking on China,’ the official said. ‘But until now we haven’t offered a positive alternative that reflects our values, our standards and our way of doing business.’
China denies all accusations of abuse in the Xinjiang region but Americans are pushing the issue as a broader one of human rights.
‘The point is to send a wake-up call that the G-7 is serious about defending human rights, and that we need to work together to eradicate forced labor from our products,’ the official said.
The group also took its first step to rival China’s multi-trillion-dollar Belt and Road initiative with a global infrastructure plan to help developing nations – a part of Biden’s desire combat Beijing’s growing economic influence around the globe.
President Joe Biden will target China at Saturday’s G7 session and push European allies to criticize Beijing’s labor practices
Biden will also unveil his own infrastructure plan to combat Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trillion-dollar ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ (BRI) that launched a network of projects and maritime lanes around the world, primarily in Asia and Africa
The plan is dubbed ‘Build Back Better for the World,’ which echoes the slogan of the Biden’s election campaign. ‘Build Back Better’ has been used repeatedly during the summit, by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in his opening remarks and by the Prince of Wales in his remarks to a dinner reception on Friday night.
The plan is meant to combat Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ (BRI), which has launched a network of projects around the world, primarily in Asia and Africa.
More than 100 countries have signed agreements with China to cooperate in BRI projects like railways, ports, highways and other infrastructure.
Critics say Xi’s plan to create a modern version of the ancient Silk Road trade route to link China with Asia, Europe and beyond is a vehicle for the expansion of Communist China. Beijing says such doubts betray the ‘imperial hangover’ of many Western powers that humiliated China for centuries.
There were no specifics on how the global infrastructure scheme would be funded. The plan would involve raising hundreds of billions in public and private money to help close a $40 trillion infrastructure gap in needy countries by 2035, the White House official said.
The re-emergence of China as a leading global power is considered to be one of the most significant geopolitical events of recent times, alongside the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union that ended the Cold War.
China in 1979 had an economy that was smaller than Italy’s, but after opening to foreign investment and introducing market reforms, it has become the world’s second-largest economy and is a global leader in a range of new technologies.
Not every European power has viewed China in as harsh a light as President Biden leaving it unclear if G7 leaders will call out China by name in its final communique
Leaders of the G7 – the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, Italy, France and Japan – want to use their gathering in the seaside resort of Carbis Bay to show the world that the richest democracies can offer an alternative to China’s growing clout.
The U.S. official said until now, the West had failed to offer a positive alternative to the ‘lack of transparency, poor environmental and labour standards, and coercive approach’ of the Chinese government that had left many countries worse off.
Britain also wants the world´s democracies to become less reliant on economic giant China. The U.K. government says Saturday´s discussions will tackle ‘how we can shape the global system to deliver for our people in support of our values,’ including by diversifying supply chains that currently heavily depend on China.
Not every European power has viewed China in as harsh a light as Biden, who has painted the rivalry with the techno-security state as the defining competition for the 21st century. But there are signs that Europe is willing to put greater scrutiny on Beijing.
Weeks before Biden took office last year, the European Commission announced it had come to terms with Beijing on the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, a deal meant to provide Europe and China greater access to each other´s markets. The Biden administration had hoped to have consultations on the pact.
But the deal has been put on hold, and the European Union in March announced sanctions targeting four Chinese officials involved with human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Beijing responded by imposing sanctions on several members of the European Parliament and other Europeans critical of the Chinese Communist Party.
Biden administration officials also see the summit as an opportunity to take concrete action to speak out against China´s reliance on forced labor as an ‘affront to human dignity.’
While calling out China in the communique wouldn’t create any immediate penalties for Beijing, one senior administration official said the action was meant to send a message that the G-7 was serious about defending human rights and working together to eradicate the use of forced labor.
An estimated 1 million people or more – most of them Uyghurs – have been confined in reeducation camps in China´s western Xinjiang region in recent years, according to researchers. Chinese authorities have been accused of imposing forced labor, systematic forced birth control, torture and separating children from incarcerated parents.
Beijing rejects allegations that it is committing crimes.
The leaders of the G7 also hope the meeting at the seaside resort will energize the global economy.
Opening three days of talks, Johnson on Friday warned that world leaders must not repeat errors made over the past 18 months – or those made during the recovery from the 2008 global financial crisis. If not, he said the pandemic ‘risks being a lasting scar’ that entrenched inequalities.
He said the G7 will announce a package of health measures aimed at reducing the chances of another pandemic. The ‘Carbis Bay Declaration’ will aim for a 100-day goal to develop vaccines, treatments and diagnostics for future diseases and to bolster surveillance for new illnesses.
Johnson said the goal of the measures was ‘to make sure that never again will we be caught unawares.’
Brexit will also cast a shadow on the summit Saturday, as Johnson meets one-on-one with European leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron amid tensions over Britain’s implementation of U.K.-EU divorce terms.
Macron will also hold talks with Biden – a meeting between allies who recalibrated their relationship during the four years of President Donald Trump´s ‘America first’ foreign policy.
Macron´s preference for multilateralism was out of step with Trump´s isolationist tendencies. But the Trump era was often framed by Macron as a clarifying moment – one in which Europe had to step forward as America drifted away from alliances and toward Trumpism.
Leaders of the G7 pose with Queen Elizabeth II
From left, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, US President Joe Biden, President of France, Emmanuel Macron and European Commission Ursula von der Leyen speak after posing for photos for the Leaders official welcome
Biden will end his eight-day European trip with a summit in Geneva with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Putin, in an interview with NBC News that aired Friday, said the Russian relationship with the U.S. has ‘deteriorated to its lowest point in recent years.’
But he added that while Trump was a ‘talented’ and ‘colorful’ person, Biden was a ‘career man’ in politics, which has ‘some advantages, some disadvantages, but there will not be any impulse-based movements’ by the U.S. president.
To cap the day Friday, Queen Elizabeth II – Britain´s biggest global star – traveled from Windsor Castle near London for a reception with the G-7 leaders and their spouses at the Eden Project, a futuristic botanical garden housed inside domes that features the world´s largest indoor rainforest.
Senior royals – including heir to the throne Prince Charles, his son Prince William and William´s wife, Kate – joined the leaders for the reception and a dinner of roasted turbot, Cornish new potatoes and greens with wild garlic pesto, cooked by a local chef.
The choice of an ecologically themed venue was deliberate.
Climate change is also a top issue on the agenda, and hundreds of protesters gathered in Cornwall to urge the leaders to act, some dressed as sea creatures such as jellyfish. Demonstrators deployed a barge off the coast with two large inflatable figures depicting Biden and Johnson on board.