G7: Pact on pandemics, pledge to contain China

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G7 leaders are on Saturday set to agree a joint declaration aimed at preventing another pandemic, as they resume wide-ranging talks at their first in-person summit in almost two years.

The group of leading economies — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — will also try to showcase Western democratic cohesion against a resurgent China and recalcitrant Russia.

They will be joined by the leaders of Australia, South Africa and South Korea, along with India taking part remotely, as the agenda broadens to foreign policy issues and climate change.

The G7 is meeting face to face for the first time since 2019, at a beachside venue in Cornwall, southwest England, after the coronavirus led to the cancellation of last year’s summit.

The leaders opened the three-day summit Friday with expectations of a pledge to donate one billion vaccine doses to poor countries this year and next — much too slow to end the crisis now, campaigners said.

US President Joe Biden arrived with a message of solidarity and resolve in stark contrast to the isolationist stance of his predecessor Donald Trump.

After the traditional family photo and opening session on “building back better” from Covid-19, the leaders spent the evening at a reception hosted by Queen Elizabeth II at Cornwall’s Eden Project.

A renowned attraction showcasing the world’s ecological riches, the site also hosted a G7 meeting with Prince Charles and 10 international business leaders to discuss ramping up sustainable growth.

The G7 this weekend will also tackle climate change, and safeguarding global biodiversity, to lay the groundwork for the UN’s pivotal COP26 environmental summit in Scotland in November.

‘Fundamental problems’

“The #CarbisBayDeclaration marks a proud and historic moment for us all,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Twitter.

“Under this agreement, the world’s leading democracies will commit to preventing a global pandemic from ever happening again, ensuring the devastation caused by Covid-19 is never repeated,” he said.

World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, criticised in some quarters for being too accommodating towards China where the coronavirus originated, welcomed the health pact.

And he said the UN agency would examine a British proposal to create a “Global Pandemic Radar” to send early warnings of future outbreaks.

However, aid charity Oxfam said the declaration “does nothing to address the fundamental problems that are preventing vaccines from being accessible to the vast majority of humanity”.

The G7 leaders are expected to pledge to donate one billion vaccine doses to poor countries this year and next — although campaigners say the rollout is much too slow to end the crisis sooner.

The leaders are also set to issue new commitments on climate change, including financial aid for the developing world, in the build-up to the UN’s COP26 environmental summit in Scotland in November.

‘Concrete action’

After a bracing dip in the Cornish sea for Johnson and a brisk beach jog for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the leaders broadened their agenda Saturday to foreign policy issues.

They were joined by the leaders of Australia, South Africa and South Korea, with India taking part remotely.

Biden pushed also for G7 action against China’s alleged forced labour practices, including against the Uyghur minority.

“This is not just about confronting or taking on China,” a senior White House official said. “This is about providing an affirmative, positive alternative vision for the world.”

He said Biden would be urging “concrete action” on the forced labour accusations, calling them “an affront to human dignity, and an egregious example of China’s unfair economic competition”.

China denies allegations that it is waging “genocide” by forcing up to one million Uyghurs and people from other ethnic-Turkic minorities into internment camps in the region of Xinjiang.

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