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Leaders of the wealthy G7 democracies on Sunday berated China for its human rights abuses and unfair economic practices, creating the strongest collective warning the group has sent to Beijing since President Xi took office Jinping almost a decade ago.
The final statement, released at the end of the annual G7 summit, directly mentions a number of contentious issues that will rock Beijing – from the crackdown in Hong Kong to the encroachment on Taiwan to forced labor in Xinjiang. It also calls for another international study into the origin of the coronavirus in China and attacks China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a global infrastructure development project, offering a $ 100 billion alternative which the countries, will provide countries with less predatory loans and better climate standards.
While many G7 countries had previously directed these concerns to China individually, the collective document is important in showing an additional link between the United States and Europe to better counter China’s economic and political rise. It is also a diplomatic victory for US President Joe Biden, who took office in January in the hope of convincing European allies to take a more confrontational stance vis-à-vis China.
“We will promote our values, including calling on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially with regard to Xinjiang and these rights, freedoms and a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong,” the leaders said in a joint statement, referring to China. commitment to abide by the “one country, two systems” framework when it regained control of Hong Kong from the British in 1997.
This move will almost certainly exacerbate tensions between China and its Western allies. The two sides have been increasingly at odds over the past year, exchanging rounds of sanctions as the European Union pulls out of an investment pact with China. Now, the G7 countries are explicitly stinging China on its most sensitive issues.
“We stress the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and encourage the peaceful settlement of cross-strait issues,” the leaders said, marking the first time they addressed the future of the autonomous island. – which China considers to be part of its territory, because the Beijing Air Force is fueling military tension in the region.
Even before the final declaration was released on Sunday, China preemptively warned the G7 not to dictate global decisions “by a small group of countries.”
But it was already clear that such warnings would fall on deaf ears during the three-day rally in the English countryside, where diplomats hammered the final language of the G7 communiqué.
Although the section of the press release on forced labor does not specifically name a country, the wording is clear as to who it is referring to. A major point of contention between Western allies and China currently are the widespread reports that Beijing has forced the Uyghur minority population in the Xinjiang region to live in internment and forced labor camps. The United States, Canada and the EU joined forces earlier this year to collectively sanction China over the affair.
“We are concerned about the use of all forms of forced labor in global supply chains, including state-sponsored forced labor of vulnerable groups and minorities, including in the agricultural sectors, solar power and clothing, ”the executives said, referring to industries supplying chains that have passed through Xinjiang.
“We agree on the importance of respecting human rights and international labor standards,” they added. China has not ratified any International Labor Organization conventions on forced labor, a major sticking point for the stalled investment deal with the EU.
G7 leaders pledged to “work together” to end forced labor “and to ensure that global supply chains are free from the use of forced labor.” A more detailed plan will be presented by October, they noted.
Even the G7 pledges to fight the pandemic came with implicit digs in China.
As part of countries’ collective commitment to deliver nearly a billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine over the next year, G7 leaders made sure to note that the donation came without any expectation of anything in return.
“The United States is providing these half a billion doses without any strings attached,” Biden said at the start of the summit.
China and Russia have both been accused of using their own vaccine supply as a geopolitical tool to gain strategic concessions from other countries – and to undermine the West.
“Our vaccine donations do not include pressure for favors or potential concessions,” Biden said.
Likewise, a reiteration of a call for a further investigation into the origins of the coronavirus has come with a not-so-subtle blow to China, which has fought efforts for a full investigation into the possibility that the pandemic may have originated in a laboratory leak in the country.
G7 leaders called for “a timely, transparent, expert-led, science-based investigation” led by the World Health Organization, including “in China.”
Before the release of the statement, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in London said, “We always believe that countries, big or small, strong or weak, poor or rich, are equal, and that world affairs should be managed through consultation among all The days when global decisions were dictated by a small group of countries are long gone. “
All in all, the statement is seen as a victory for the Biden administration, as EU leaders were pleased with the dual focus on competition and cooperation with China.
“Three years ago China was not even mentioned in the G7 communiqué. This year there is a section on China,” said a White House official. “It has been an exceptionally substantial and productive G7.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has made it clear that the plan to scale up G7 investments in Africa targets Beijing’s growing influence, saying in an interview with Euronews: “It is first important to convince our partners with us, the investment comes with no strings attached compared to China. “
Without citing countries, European Council President Charles Michel added: “Liberal democracies and open societies face pressure from authoritarian regimes. This challenge prompted us to join forces at the G7.
A senior EU official said the EU still wants to “engage constructively with China on issues such as climate change.” He added that other G7 countries “agree” with the EU’s quest for a “multi-faceted approach” to China involving partnership, competition and systemic rivalry – a common phrase that leaders of the ‘EU use to describe their relationship with China.
On the other hand, the White House official described the joint statement as showing the “broad lines of effort around which President Biden has called on democracies around the world to organize,” adding: “Out of all of them, he there was a strategic convergence “.
Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel – one of the main supporters of the EU-China investment deal – had harsh words for Beijing.
“Our goal is to see significant progress” on labor rights in China, she said to POLITICO’s question. “There must be some progress compared to the current situation.”
Anita Kumar in Plymouth and Jakob Hanke Vela at Tregenna Castle contributed to this report.
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