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World leaders wonder how hard to be on China

It was a back-and-forth reflecting the divisive issue China has become among Western allies – even with what Europeans see as the welcoming presence of U.S. President Joe Biden – as leaders grapple with l ancestry of the country as a geopolitical and economic counterweight. to the democracies they represent.

“This morning was to dig a little deeper into some of the … more difficult elements of the G-7’s position on the difficulty of pushing and calling some of the actions that China is taking,” said a senior US administration official.

The final language will be unveiled on Sunday at the end of the G-7 summit, the first held since 2019, after the 2020 rally was canceled during the pandemic. And despite the divergent positions, the ultimate text will likely be the most comprehensive G-7 language on China since President Xi Jinping took over as Chinese leader in 2012.

Under discussion, two sections pertaining to China – one that could address human rights, and another that could offer countries funding alternatives to the so-called Beijing Belt and Road Initiative, a global project of infrastructure development.

This is the first section that has been a struggle for diplomats seeking consensus.

As the United States and its European allies agree on the need to aggressively tackle China’s human rights behavior – even jointly sanctioning the country in March for its treatment of Uyghurs in the country. Xinjiang – they differed over which rhetoric to use towards Beijing, sometimes due to differing economic considerations.

The EU, for example, already has an investment deal with China, though it later put the deal on hold amid growing tensions with Beijing.

According to the senior US administration official, France is broadly in favor of singling out China for its forced labor practices, but European, German and Italian diplomats were more hesitant.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the talks on China had been “very exciting and interesting” and underlined her view that the G-7 should seek to find a balance.

“On the one hand, we know that the social systems of the G-7 countries and China are different. We are critical of human rights issues in China, whether it is Xinjiang or the restriction of freedoms in Hong Kong. We too, of course, demand free access to international waters. These are very important questions, ”she said.

“On the other hand, we also have cooperation links on many subjects. I would like to mention, for example, climate issues and biodiversity issues, but also free trade,” she told the press on Saturday evening.

Merkel said the G-7 countries have all committed to a “rules-based international and multilateral cooperation mechanism” in their relations with China, involving international organizations.

“The issue of forced labor will certainly be addressed,” she added. She also defended the EU-China investment agreement, noting that it referred to core standards of the International Labor Organization.

At the end of the day, a second U.S. official said the countries had ironed out some of their differences over the language of the statement without giving details. But in a statement, the official said there was “growing convergence” among G-7 countries on highlighting “China’s human rights violations, including in Xinjiang” .

“Since some members didn’t even want to mention China just three years ago, this is a huge change in a short period of time,” the official added.

Another human rights issue at stake is whether to name specific Beijing detainees in the statement.

Canada has insisted on the issue, trying to include mention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who have been detained in China since late 2018.

“Western democracies that are part of the G-7 should not at all hesitate to pursue all these actions where it is appropriate, even to challenge,” Canadian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Ralph Goodale, said on Friday.

The seven countries are more aligned with the other area: global infrastructure finance.

Diplomats are finalizing wording for what they call “Rebuilding Better for the World” (a nod to the national slogans of Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson). This is an initiative to free up hundreds of billions of dollars from government and private industry for developing countries that may be inclined to receive funds from China.

G-7 countries have criticized Beijing for pushing countries into debt with its Belt and Road loan offers, depriving them of much of the benefits of any new infrastructure or economic investment.

The White House has said it wants the G-7 countries to commit to a “better” alternative to Belt and Road financing, offering investments that meet better climate standards and practices. of work. It would be financed in part by existing US contributions to the financing of infrastructure abroad through the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

“The United States and many of our partners and friends around the world have long been skeptical of China’s Belt and Road Initiative,” the second US official said. “We have seen the Chinese government demonstrate a lack of transparency, poor environmental and labor standards, and an approach that has made matters worse for many countries.”

The manager added: “But so far we have not come up with a positive alternative that reflects our values, our standards and the way we do business.”

The White House declined to say how much money the United States would contribute, saying it is still negotiating with other countries. He said the United States is already investing billions of dollars in funding infrastructure abroad and plans to work with Congress to do more.

As all parties work out a final text, the other major player – Japan – has issued a veiled appeal to Europe to do more economically.

“With the European Union, we have assisted a number of their discussions on various issues such as economic behavior, market distortion measures and also economic aid from China which are not compatible with international regulations.” , Tomoyuki Koshida, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. business press secretary, told reporters. “We hope that Europe, Japan and other like-minded countries deepen these discussions in the future.”

Stuart Lau reported from Brussels and David M. Herszenhorn reported from Falmouth, England.

Anna Isaac, Esther Webber and Rym Momtaz contributed to this report.

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