PLYMOUTH, ENGLAND – G-7 leaders appear to be split on U.S. President Joe Biden’s call to take more aggressive action against China, including on its forced labor practices, unwillingness to play by international trade rules and problematic global infrastructure financing mechanism.
“There were some interesting discussions and a little bit of a differentiation of opinion,” said a senior Biden administration official while briefing reporters following G-7 plenary sessions in Cornwall, England. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity.
G-7 leaders agreed the threat of an increasingly assertive China is real but differ on how aggressive the response should be, the official said. Italy, Germany, and the European Union appear reluctant to take as tough a stance on China, and instead would rather focus on the “cooperative nature of the relationship.”
The U.S., Britain, Canada, and France, on the other hand, want to be more “action-oriented” to different degrees. Japan appears to be the most ambivalent of the group.
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Build Back Better World
Biden and this year’s G-7 Summit, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, are anxious to announce an infrastructure financing mechanism for low- and middle-income countries, designed to rival China’s Belt and Road Initiative—the global infrastructure development investment strategy in dozens of countries that is central to Beijing’s foreign policy.
The initiative, called “Build Back Better World,” or “B3W,” aims to mobilize existing development finance mechanisms and the private sector to narrow the gap in infrastructure financing needs in the developing world, while meeting labor, environmental and transparency standards.
The administration says B3W will “collectively catalyze hundreds of billions of dollars of infrastructure.” The timeline, structure, and scope of the financing to be committed by the U.S., though, is still unclear.
“It’s fair to ask whether this is going to be actually new funding, new capacity to build infrastructure in the region, or is this a repurposing and repackaging of resources that are also available,” said Robert Daly, director of the Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute on China and the United States.
To expand its sphere of influence, Beijing is known to give BRI loans to countries for projects that are not considered creditworthy by established international lenders.
“That raises the question of whether this new program is going to be less risk averse,” Daly said, noting that if these projects were bankable, lenders such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank would have funded them already.
Xinjiang forced labor
Sino-U.S. tensions are set to be raised further as Biden lobbies G-7 partners to come out with a strong statement and concrete action against Chinese forced labor practices targeting the Uyghur Muslims from Xinjiang and other ethnic minorities.
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Since 2018, humanitarian organizations have documented evidence of Beijing implementing a mass detention and forced labor program. The program includes transferring Uyghur and other Chinese minorities from Xinjiang, forcing them to work under harsh conditions in factories across the country, many of which are in the supply chains of global brands.
Biden characterizes the practices as “an affront to human dignity and an egregious example of China’s unfair, economic competition,” according to an administration official. The president wants the G-7 to speak out forcefully in a unified voice against Beijing’s forced labor practices but it is uncertain whether he will have the necessary support to include it in the final G-7 communique to be released Sunday.