Biden, G-7 leaders condemn human rights abuse by China

President Biden finished three days of meetings with Group of 7 leaders here Sunday, lauding new agreements by the world’s leading democracies to collaborate on efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus, combat climate change and counter the growing threat of autocracies, with a rebuke of China for human rights abuses.

Biden has sought to convince wary allies in Europe that “America is back” as a global leader after the Trump years saw a retreat toward a more inward-looking, nationalist posture.

“The only way we’re going to meet global threats is working together,” Biden said at a news conference before he was to fly to London to visit Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle. “The United States is going to do our part. America is back at the table. America is back at the table.”

He said he was encouraged by the “sense of enthusiasm” from the other leaders of G-7 nations — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and Italy — to the U.S. being “fully engaged” with the other large democracies.

“I think we’re in a contest, not with China per se, but a contest with autocrats, autocratic governments around the world, as to whether or not democracies can compete with them in a rapidly changing 21st century,” he said. And I think how we act, whether we pull together as democracies, is going to determine whether our grandkids look back 15 years from now and say ,‘Did they step up? Are democracies as relevant and powerful as they have been?’”

A G-7 communique released Sunday at the conclusion of meetings on the sandy shores of Carbis Bay featured a section on China, emphasizing the group’s shared commitment to responding to “China’s non-market policies and practices which undermine the fair and transparent operation of the global economy.”

It included an explicit rebuke of human rights abuses, “calling on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang and those rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law.”

Biden had pushed to include stronger language on China’s forced labor practices, especially in the agricultural, solar and garment sectors. The leaders of Germany, Japan and the European Commission, because of their economic ties to China, were reluctant to be so explicit.

The White House, eager to demonstrate Biden’s leadership on the issue of China, pointed out that the G-7 communique three years ago hadn’t mentioned China.

Asked if he had hoped to convince allies to go further with their language rebuking China, Biden told reporters he was “satisfied” with the final version. “There’s plenty of action on China,” he said.

The communique also references China in calling for “a timely, transparent, expert-led, and science-based WHO-convened” study of the origins of the coronavirus and in a statement of concern about rising tensions with Taiwan in the South China Sea.

The allies, emphasizing commitment to their shared democratic values, also referenced other human rights concerns, including in Myanmar, Belarus and Ethiopia.

In other areas, the communique highlighted the work conducted over the last three days at an especially substantive summit, the first in two years and since the COVID-19 pandemic devastated countries large and small and damaged the global economy.

Leaders agreed to a new global vaccination push, donating 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine over the next year to low-income nations where the coronavirus continued to spread. The U.S. is contributing half, 500 million shots, which it will begin to distribute this summer.

Biden acknowledged that the effort might not be enough to fully eradicate the pandemic in every corner of the world, and said the U.S. and G-7 allies understood that they might have to do more in the coming months.

Over the weekend, the Group of 7 leaders also agreed on new efforts to curb carbon emissions, including the goals of halving emissions by the year 2030 and being net zero with carbon by 2050. The final communique also included a commitment by the leaders to end financing for coal-fired power plants.

At his news conference, Biden said some of the other world leaders ribbed him about his predecessor’s indifference to climate change, joking with him and saying, “Oh … [the] U.S. leadership recognizes global warming.”

“We had a president who basically said it’s not a problem,” Biden continued, referring to former President Trump. “It is the existential problem facing humanity, and we’re going to treat it that way.”

The G-7 leaders also agreed to implement a global minimum tax of 15% aimed at preventing major companies from moving operations to anti-democratic, low-tax nations, and a major infrastructure financing initiative to leverage public and private investment to offer the developing world a “values-based” alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.