Biden urges G7 summit to form a united front against China’s human rights abuses

Uighur detainees are forced to listen to  "de-radicalisation" lectures in a Xinjiang labor camp.

Uighur detainees are forced to listen to "de-radicalisation" lectures in a Xinjiang labor camp. Photo: Chinese TV

Leaders of the world’s largest economies have unveiled an infrastructure plan for the developing world to compete with China’s global initiatives, but they have been searching for a consensus on how to forcefully to call out Beijing over human rights abuses.

Citing China for its forced labour practices is part of US President Joe Biden’s campaign to persuade fellow democratic leaders to present a more unified front to compete economically with Beijing.

But while they agreed to work towards competing against China, there was less unity on how adversarial a public position the group should take.

Canada, the United Kingdom and France largely endorsed Biden’s position, while Germany, Italy and the European Union showed more hesitancy during Saturday’s first session of the Group of Seven summit, according to two senior Biden administration officials.

The communique that summarises the meeting’s commitments was being written and the contents would not be clear until it was released when the summit ended on Sunday. White House officials said late on Saturday they believed China could be called out for “non-market policies and human rights abuses”.

In his first summit as President, Biden made a point of carving out one-on-one-time with leaders. He bounced from French president Emmanuel Macron to German chancellor Angela Merkel to Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi as well as Japan’s Yoshihide Suga and Australia’s Scott Morrison, a day after meeting British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Macron told Biden that collaboration was needed on a range of issues and told the American president that “it’s great to have a US president part of the club and very willing to co-operate”. Relations between the allies had become strained during the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency and his “America first” foreign policy.

Merkel’s softer line

Merkel, for her part, played down differences on China and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would transport natural gas from Russia to Germany, bypassing Ukraine.

“The atmosphere is very co-operative, it is characterised by mutual interest,” Merkel said. “There are very good, constructive and very vivid discussions in the sense that one wants to work together.”

White House officials have said Biden wants the leaders of the G7 nations – the US, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and Italy – to speak in a single voice against forced labour practices targeting China’s Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities.

Biden hopes the denunciation will be part of a joint statement to be released on Sunday when the summit ends, but some European allies are reluctant to split so forcefully with Beijing.

The wealthy nations’ summit is their first since 2019. Last year’s gathering was cancelled because of COVID-19, and recovery from the pandemic is dominating this year’s discussions, with leaders expected to commit to sharing at least one billion vaccine shots with struggling countries.

The allies also presented an infrastructure proposal called Build Back Better for the World. The plan calls for spending hundreds of billions of dollars in collaboration with the private sector while adhering to climate standards and labour practices.

Beijing’s debt traps

It’s designed to compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which has launched a network of projects and maritime lanes across the world. Critics say China’s projects often create massive debt and expose nations to undue influence by Beijing.

Britain also wants the world’s democracies to become less reliant on the Asian economic giant.

The UK government said discussions would tackle “how we can shape the global system to deliver for our people in support of our values”, including by diversifying supply chains that depend heavily on China.

Johnson, the summit host, also welcomed the leaders from “guest nations” South Korea, Australia and South Africa, as well as the head of the United Nations, to the summit to “intensify co-operation between the world’s democratic and technologically advanced nations”.

India was also invited but its delegation is not attending in person because of the severe coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Biden ends the trip on Wednesday by meeting in Geneva with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. The White House said only Biden would address the media after the meeting.


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