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Biden Pushes G-7 Allies To Take A Tougher Stance On China

Updated June 13, 2021 at 11:08 AM ET

Leaders of the G-7 have agreed to work together in combating the coronavirus pandemic, confronting climate change and countering the rising influence of China.

The official joint statement released Sunday after three days of meetings included an unusually strong emphasis on China. It called for a "timely, transparent, expert-led, and science-based" study of the origins of COVID-19, to be led by the WHO; support for infrastructure for developing countries to compete with China's "Belt and Road" initiative; support for responding to China's "non-market economic practices," and a public rebuke of China's labor practices and human rights abuses, including in Xinjian and Hong Kong.

President Biden worked hard to try to convince G-7 leaders to take a more assertive stance on China's human rights abuses and trade practices during a weekend of group meetings and private sessions that one adviser described as "diplomatic speed-dating."

"I know this is gonna sound somewhat prosaic," Biden said in a press conference at the conclusion of the G-7 meetings. "I think we're in a contest. Not with China per se, but with autocrats, autocratic governments around the world, whether or not democracies can compete with them in the rapidly changing 21st century."

Biden urged China to be more transparent about the causes of COVID-19, saying the world still does not know whether the pandemic originated in a wet market in the Chinese city of Wuhan or if "it was an experiment gone awry in the lab."

Biden has repeatedly said he sees China as a key strategic competitor and has called for greater cooperation on trade, public health, and human rights. But some other G-7 leaders have sought to work with China in areas like infrastructure projects and telecommunications. In his first face-to-face meetings with European allies since taking office, Biden sought to repair ties strained during tense international meetings with his predecessor, and tried to stake out some common ground on the issues posed by Beijing.

How aggressively to confront China has been a sticking point. Some G-7 leaders worry about damaging crucial economic ties.

The final agreement also placed particular attention on Russia and a recognition of ransomware as an "urgent and escalating threat that requires us to identify, disrupt, and hold to account criminal networks."

Biden is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva on Wednesday. He told reporters Sunday he agreed with Putin's assessment that relations between the two countries are "at a low point." And while the U.S. is not looking for conflict, he added, he is "looking to resolve those issues that we think are inconsistent with international norms."

Separately, G-7 leaders also agreed to donate 1 billion coronavirus vaccines to developing countries and end new direct government support for unabated international thermal coal power generation by the end of this year.

During his meetings with leaders, Biden also talked about the COVID-19 response, climate change, the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan and instability in the Sahel region of West Africa, the White House said.

"I felt a genuine sense of enthusiasm that America was back at the table," Biden said at a press conference at the conclusion of the summit.

The dynamics were noticeably different for Biden than former President Donald Trump, who did not enjoy multilateral summits and often sparred with other leaders.

"For all these issues, what we need is cooperation," said French President Emmanuel Macron at the beginning of an hour-long chat with Biden on a terrace overlooking the seaside.

"And I think it's great to have the U.S. president part of the club and very willing to cooperate," Macron said.

Biden also met with leaders from Germany, Italy and Japan. He met with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison — who as at the G-7 as a guest. He later met with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, another guest invited to the summit.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.