CARBIS BAY :
LEADERS of the world’s largest economies unveiled an infrastructure plan on Sunday for the developing world to compete with China’s global initiatives, but they were searching for a consensus on how to forcefully call out Beijing over human rights abuses. Citing China for its forced labour practices is part of 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 toward 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 still being written and its contents would not be clear until its release upon Sunday’s summit conclusion. But White House officials said late on Saturday that they believed that, in some form, 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 the leaders, bouncing from French President Emmanuel Macron to German chancellor Angela Merkel to Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a day after meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as if to personally try to ward off memories of the chaos that his predecessor would often bring to these gatherings. 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 cooperate.” Relations between the allies had become strained during the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency and his “America first” foreign policy. Merkel, for her part, downplayed differences on 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 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 G-7 nations — the US, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and Italy — to speak in a single voice against forced labour practices targeting China’s Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities. Biden hopes the denunciation will be part of a joint statement to be released Sunday when the summit ends, but some European allies are reluctant to split so forcefully with Beijing.
China had become one of the more compelling sublots of the wealthy nations’ summit, their first since 2019. Last year’s gathering was canceled because of COVID-19, and recovery from the pandemic is dominating this year’s discussions, with leaders expected to commit to sharing at least 1 billion vaccine shots with struggling countries. The allies also took the first steps in presenting an infrastructure proposal called “Build Back Better for the World,” a name echoing Biden’s campaign slogan. The plan calls for spending hundreds of billions of dollars in collaboration with the private sector while adhering to climate standards and labor practices. It’s designed to compete with China’s trillion-dollar “Belt and Road Initiative,” which has launched a network of projects and maritime lanes that snake around large portions of the world, primarily Asia and Africa. 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.