World leaders aired serious differences over how best to approach China during a session of the G7 summit in Cornwall on Saturday, according to a senior Biden administration official.
The disagreements, aired during a session that at one point became so sensitive that all internet was shut off to the room, pitted European nations against the United States, Britain and Canada, who urged stronger action against China for its authoritarian practices, including forced labor practices in western Xinjiang province.
Officials described the China issue as one of the most challenging elements of the G7 gathering.
“There was some interesting discussion, and a little bit of differentiation of opinion on, not whether this threat is there but on how strong, from an action perspective, I think different G7 members are willing to take things,” the official said.
At one point, US President Joe Biden made a forceful call to other leaders about vocally calling out China’s anti-democratic practices, officials said, emphasizing the need to take action.
The official said Biden was joined by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron in pushing for tougher action on China. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and leaders from the European Union sought to emphasize areas of cooperation with China.
Even within those groupings, there was a spectrum of views on the matter, officials said.
Where officials did agree was on establishing an infrastructure initiative to compete with China’s Belt and Road program.
Still, though the leaders disagreed, the session was marked by new respect among the leaders after four years of tension under former US President Donald Trump.
“These leaders really seem to like each other and respect each other, and work through where that sweet spot might be,” the senior administration official said, describing real effort at finding consensus on tricky issues, including China.
Some more context: The G7 summit formally began on Friday evening with discussion of vaccines and later a family photo. Officials said there was a sense of new unity among the group after four years of strain under Trump, marked by embraces and warm looks between the leaders. Saturday’s session delved deeper into the differences between nations than the Friday talks.
The United States says it will be a lead partner in a new global, climate-friendly infrastructure program with its Group of 7 partners, part of President Joe Biden’s larger efforts at the G7 summit to better position the US and its allies to compete with China in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.
Here are key things to know about the initiative:
- The White House said the program, presented as an alternative to China’s own global infrastructure initiative, will “help narrow the $40+ trillion infrastructure need in the developing world, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
- A senior administration official described the plan, called the “Build Back Better World” initiative, as a “bold, new global infrastructure initiative with our G7 partners that will be values-driven, transparent and sustainable” and will compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
- The G7 will announce “a positive alternative that reflects our values, our standards and our way of doing business,” a second senior official said.
- As part of the new infrastructure announcement, the US said the Group of 7 will be joining partners and the private sector in “collectively catalyzing hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure investment for low and middle-income countries that need it.”
China’s Belt and Road Initiative, first announced in 2013 under Chinese President Xi Jinping, aims to build ports, roads and railways to create new trade corridors linking China to Africa and the rest of Eurasia. The Chinese-funded, cross-continental infrastructure initiative has been seen as an extension of the country’s sharp ascent to global power.
Officials described the global infrastructure pitch not as a confrontation with China, but as an alternative path.
“This is not about making countries choose between us and China. This is about offering an affirmative, alternative vision and approach that they would want to choose,” the first administration official said.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told CNN he “wholly approves” of US President Joe Biden bringing “tough messages” to a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday.
Asked by CNN’s Clarissa Ward whether he agrees with Biden’s assessment of Putin being a “killer,” Johnson said he “certainly” thinks “President Putin has done things that are unconscionable.”
Johnson said he is “fairly certain that Putin authorized the poisonings in Salisbury that led to the death of an innocent and a member of the British public and the attempted poisoning of the Skripals.”
Johnson pointed to the case of jailed and poisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who he says is “in prison on trumped-up charges” and is “effectively being tortured,” an example of what happens to Putin’s enemies.
He also said there can’t be a normalization in relations between the US and Russia until Moscow “changes its behavior.”
More on the Biden-Putin summit: The US and Russian leaders are currently not expected to hold a joint press conference following their high-stakes summit in Geneva, Switzerland Wednesday, two US officials familiar with the matter said.
The final plans are still being formulated and could change. But officials putting together the day’s events said that as of Friday, no joint press conference was expected. On Saturday, the White House confirmed Biden would not join Putin after the summit for a press conference and instead the US President will hold a solo presser. As for the nature of the meeting, a White House official said they expect it to “be candid and straightforward.”
CNN’s Kevin Liptak and Kaitlan Collins contributed reporting to this post.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson held bilateral meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the sidelines of the G7 on Saturday morning, as post-Brexit tensions between Britain and the European Union threaten to overshadow the summit.
Johnson also met with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel at the Carbis Bay resort, where G7 leaders have gathered for the first major in-person summit since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Britain and the bloc have been locked in heated discussions over Northern Ireland — the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with the EU.
The EU is furious at Britain’s delays to imposing new checks on some goods coming into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, while Johnson has said the protocol is putting an undue burden on businesses and having a “damaging impact” on the people of Northern Ireland. The EU has launched legal action against the UK over its unilateral attempts to extend the Brexit grace period on food imports to Northern Ireland.
What is the “Northern Ireland Protocol”? The protocol, which forms part of the UK-EU Brexit deal, chiefly seeks to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and EU member state. It does so by keeping Northern Ireland in the EU’s customs area and single market for goods. The arrangement has created a de facto sea border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, which has enraged unionists in Northern Ireland and in Britain.
The growing feud between Britain and the EU has also drawn the attention of US President Joe Biden, concerned that it risks inflaming tensions on the island of Ireland and poses a threat to Northern Ireland’s peace deal, which was brokered by the US in 1998.
Downing Street said on Saturday that EU leaders would continue discussions to seek a resolution to issues over the Northern Ireland Protocol, and that Johnson had called for “compromise on all sides.”
Following Johnson’s talks with EU leaders, a Downing Street spokesperson said: “He made clear his desire for pragmatism and compromise on all sides but underlined that protecting the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in all its dimensions was paramount.”
Reacting on Twitter, Ursula von der Leyen said that the EU wants the “best possible relations with the UK,” but urged it to “implement what we agreed on.”
US President Joe Biden will hold a solo press conference following his meeting Wednesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, the White House confirmed Saturday.
CNN first reported on Friday that a joint press conference wasn’t currently expected, but that officials were still negotiating details of the summit with their Russian counterparts.
“While we are still finalizing the format for the meeting with President Putin and his delegation, we can confirm a few details, including the plan for both a working session and a smaller session, as well as a solo press conference by President Biden following the meeting,” a White House official said.
“We expect this meeting to be candid and straightforward and a solo press conference is the appropriate format to clearly communicate with the free press the topics that were raised in the meeting—both in terms of areas where we may agree and in areas where we have significant concerns,” the official went on.
It still was not immediately clear whether Biden and Putin will meet one-on-one without notetakers, as then-US President Donald Trump did when he met Putin in Helsinki.
President Joe Biden’s attempts to talk up democracy in Europe this week are facing headwinds from back home, where revelations about the Justice Department’s attempts to obtain Democrats’ data have raised new concerns about the state of American politics.
Throughout his time here, Biden is making the case to American allies that democracy must prevail over a rising tide of authoritarianism. His argument has been that democracies are better at providing for their people and the world.
He has openly acknowledged that democracies are often messy. But he said this week that the world had reached an “inflection point” where the competition between democracy and autocracy is coming to a head.
Yet as challenges back home bubble up, he is finding it harder to point to his country’s own recent history, including the lingering remnants of President Donald Trump’s tenure.
As he was preparing to attend his first G7 meeting on Friday, reports emerged from Washington that prosecutors in Trump’s Justice Department, beginning in February 2018, subpoenaed Apple for data from the accounts of House Intelligence Committee Democrats, their staff and family members, including at least one minor, as part of a leak investigation. The subpoena included a gag order, which was renewed three times before it expired this year and Apple notified the customers in May.
The development immediately drew accusations the Trump administration was abusing its power in a decidedly undemocratic fashion. The attempts by the Justice Department to secretly gather information about Trump’s political rivals came after revelations it took similar steps to obtain information from reporters at outlets Trump frequently denigrated.
It was the kind of step American officials often decry in the authoritarian regimes Biden is hoping to minimize in his European tour this week. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who’s set to meet with the President next week and is a fan of using whataboutism in order to deflect criticism of his regime, no doubt read the reports with interest.
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President Biden has arrived at Carbis Bay seaside village in Cornwall for the second day of the G7 summit. His motorcade arrived around 10:15 a.m. (5:15 a.m. ET).
Today’s sessions are focused on “Building Back Resilient – Winning the Future” and “Building Back Resilient – Foreign Policy.”
Later he is scheduled to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron for their first formal in-person meeting. They held a brief chat during Friday’s summit session.
Saturday’s working session at the G7 summit in Cornwall, England, is aimed at strategic competition with China, Biden administration officials said, with the aim of positioning the US and its allies to better compete with China in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.
Part of that competition will include the “Build Back Better for the World” initiative, what a senior administration official described as a “bold, new global infrastructure initiative with our G7 partners that will be values-driven, transparent and sustainable.”
The infrastructure initiative will work to address a $40 trillion infrastructure gap in lower and middle-income countries, the official said, and is designed to compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The G7 will announce “a positive alternative that reflects our values, our standards, and our way of doing business,” a second senior official said.
The group will be joining partners and the private sector in “collectively catalyzing hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure investment for low and middle-income countries that need it.”
Officials described the action not as a confrontation, but as the presentation of an alternative path.
This is not about making countries choose between us and China, this is about offering an affirmative, alternative vision and approach that they would want to choose,” the first administration official said.
And in the coming days when Biden travels to the NATO summit in Brussels, NATO countries will be “addressing the security challenge from China directly in a communique” for the first time, per the first senior official.
A second piece of Saturday’s session, the officials announced, is aimed at targeting China’s forced labor practices.
President Joe Biden, the second official said, will be “pressing his fellow leaders for concrete action on forced labor, to 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.”
The administration is advocating for China to be specifically named in the final G7 communiqué, though it was unclear if it will ultimately end up in the final agreement that will be released Sunday.
A bronze sculpture of a tin miner overlooks a short strip of budget food and clothing stores, and boarded up businesses in Cornwall’s Redruth. It’s a celebration of the town’s proud mining history, but also a reminder of its decline. A surgical mask on the statue’s face symbolizes the town’s sense of community — and its collective anxiety over how it will pull through the pandemic.
Just a 20-minute drive away, leaders from the Group of Seven (G7) nations — which together account for 40% of the world’s GDP — are staying in luxury accommodation on the glorious Carbis Bay, flying in on private jets for lavish meals and even a meeting with the Queen and other royals, to discuss, of all things, how to address the very inequality their nations have for so long perpetuated.
In a small Redruth gallery, the Mining Exchange Art Studios, a painting hangs on a wall, depicting a defunct fire station in need of a makeover. Lorna Elaine Hosking, a 29-year-old artist who runs the studios, thinks the G7 leaders are not really thinking about towns like hers.
“The G7 is a positive thing because it highlights how wonderful the county is, but it would be nice if the Cornish people were celebrated for more than just the seaside image, because it’s much more than that,” she said.
“We never really recovered from the economic crash in the ’80s, and we’ve had lots more recessions since then. We do our best, but sometimes we get forgotten about. These leaders that come in, they just see the seaside, but us people inland — in the old mining towns like Redruth — the wages are very low. There’s lots of problems.”
Of all the world’s advanced nations, the United Kingdom has one of the most unequal distributions of wealth — the United States is even worse — and Cornwall is home to some of the country’s most deprived neighborhoods.
But what’s going on in this Cornish town is the same story in so many parts of the world. Little progress has been made globally to improve equality since the 2008 financial crisis, and the frustration of hundreds of millions of people has culminated in movements like Occupy Wall Street, the election of populist leaders like Donald Trump, and a movement away from globalization to parochialism and protectionism.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is chairing the summit, said at the first leaders’ meeting on Friday that it was “vital” to avoid repeating the same mistakes of the 2008 crisis, “when the recovery was not uniform across all parts of society.”
“And I think what’s gone wrong with this pandemic, or what risks being a lasting scar, is that inequalities may be entrenched.”
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