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Biden to press G-7 leaders around a unified approach to counter China


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(L-R) President of the European Council Charles Michel, Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, France’s President Emmanuel Macron, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, US President Joe Biden, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Italy’s Prime minister Mario Draghi and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen attend a working sesssion at the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall on June 11, 2021.

Ludovic Marin | AFP | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will press G-7 leaders to take concrete steps to counter China’s rising global influence on Saturday, the second day of the annual summit.

One of these steps will be a global infrastructure initiative called “Build Back Better for the World.” The multi-billion-dollar plan, parts of which were previously announced, aims to create what one White House official described as a “higher quality” alternative to China’s Belt and Road infrastructure project. 

China has been developing overland and maritime routes between East Asia and the rest of the world for nearly a decade. Critics allege the country has also sought to leverage those investments to build political goodwill and discourage criticism of its leadership and institutions.

The new G-7 plan will be funded in part with existing U.S. contributions to overseas infrastructure financing, through institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. 

The Biden administration also plans to work with Congress to increase U.S. contributions to the G-7’s Development Financing Toolkit. 

“The hope is that, together with G-7 partners, the private sector and other stakeholders, we will soon be collectively catalyzing hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure investment for low- and middle-income countries that need it,” said a senior administration official, who was granted anonymity to discuss ongoing negotiations during a call with reporters Friday.

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Biden administration aides insist that the project is not about making countries choose between the United States and China.

“This is about offering an affirmative, alternative vision and approach that they would want to choose,” a second administration official told reporters during a briefing on Friday. 

“What we’re promoting is a confident, positive agenda focused around rallying other countries that share our values on the issues that matter most,” that official said.

Biden’s most challenging task on Saturday will be to convince G-7 leaders to take concrete action to address what the United States calls the “genocide and crimes against humanity” that China is committing against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang Province. 

But rather than press G-7 leaders to flatly condemn China’s treatment of Uyghurs, Biden will take a more diplomatic approach. The president will argue that China’s use of forced Uyghur labor represents unfair economic competition.

Biden “will make clear to the world that we believe these practices are an affront to human dignity and an egregious example of China’s unfair economic competition,” an administration official said. “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.”

But there is no guarantee that Biden will be able to convince the rest of his G-7 partners to take concrete action. 

Not all G-7 members are “willing to be as confrontational toward China as Washington asks,” Denny Roy, a senior fellow at the East-West Center, told The South China Morning Post.  

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“Most would rather have a constructive economic relationship while quietly opposing certain Chinese practices,” Roy said. “Even Japan, which is generally hawkish toward China, has been hesitant to sign on to sanctions against China over the mistreatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.”

And as of early Saturday morning, it was not yet clear yet whether China would be mentioned by name in the eventual public statement the G-7 leaders will issue on Sunday, known as the communique.

“We’re pushing for being specific on areas like Xinjiang, where forced slavery is taking place and where we have to express our values as a G-7,” a senior Biden official said during the briefing. “But it’s too early to say what will end up in the final [communique].”

China is watching the G-7 meetings closely, and earlier this week a government spokesman in Beijing addressed the U.S. plan to put China front and center on the G-7 agenda.

“Those fanning confrontation are definitely on an ill-advised path,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a press conference. “Ganging up, pursuing bloc politics and forming small cliques are unpopular and doomed to fail.”

From left to right: Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, Charles Michel, president of the European Council, U.S. President Joe Biden, Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, U.K. prime minister, Mario Draghi, Italy’s prime minister, Emmanuel Macron, Frances president, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, Angela Merkel, Germanys chancellor, during the family photo on the first day of the Group of Seven leaders summit in Carbis Bay, U.K., on Friday, June 11, 2021.

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Hollie Adams | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The G-7 meetings finish on Sunday, after which Biden will travel to Brussels, where he will attend a NATO summit on Monday. There, too, the United States will advocate for a strategy to counter China’s global influence.

A Biden administration official said the summit would mark the first time that the NATO countries “will be addressing the security challenge from China directly in a communiqué.”

But Biden is also expected to face some of the same challenges in Brussels that he has in England: The reluctance of many European countries to put their deep economic ties with Beijing at risk by directly confronting China over its malign actions and its alleged human rights abuses.

On Tuesday, Biden will meet with members meet with leaders of the European Union.

Following those meetings, the president is scheduled to hold a summit on June 16 in Geneva with Russian President Vladimir Putin.


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