China divides G7 as Biden calls for international investigation into origins of Covid-19
G7 leaders pose for a group photo on the beach in Cornwall - AP Photo / Patrick Semansky
Joe Biden has called for an international investigation to determine if Covid-19 leaked from a Chinese laboratory while trying to rally the G7 leaders behind a "competition with autocracies."
But his comments about a "laboratory leak" on Sunday were downplayed by other heads of state and government, and the G7 summit collapsed without bridging major rifts across China.
The leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Great Britain and the United States called on the World Health Organization to convene a "timely, transparent, expert-led and science-based" investigation into the origins of Covid-19, "also in China, "in a joint statement following three-day talks on Sunday.
In comments that will infuriate Beijing, Mr Biden said that neither he nor US intelligence had come to a conclusion as to whether the virus came from a laboratory, but wanted a "floor" as part of measures to prevent another pandemic “Set for transparency.
“Transparency counts across the board. We didn't have access to laboratories to determine if this was a consequence of the marketplace and interface with animals and the environment, or if it was a failed experiment in a laboratory, ”said Biden.
Boris Johnson said the coronavirus pandemic was "unlikely" to have emerged from a laboratory, but added, "Clearly any sane person would want to stay open-minded about this."
French President Emmanuel Macron said "there was no discussion between leaders about the origins of the virus" dismissing the theory as a diversion from fighting the disease. He said the G7 is not a club hostile to China, despite the differences in human rights. The differences of opinion reflected wider rifts over how far to go to confront China on human rights and strategic competition.
Mr. Biden arrived in Cornwall looking for a harsh language in which he would condemn China's human rights record and more directly recognize the global struggle for influence between the West and Beijing.
He explicitly formulated an agreement to create a “better construction” green infrastructure program for developing countries as a competitor to China's Belt and Road Initiative and called for the condemnation of the use of Uighur Muslims by China as slave labor in clothing factories.
However, he has faced significant setbacks from European allies, particularly Mr. Macron, who refused to portray the group as "hostile" to China.
The final communiqué called on China to “respect” human rights in Xinjiang and Hong Kong and separately condemned the use of forced labor in global supply chains, but made no mention of Uighur prison labor.
It also underlined the "importance of cross-strait peace and stability" rather than criticizing China for its aggressive behavior.
Mr. Biden said he was "satisfied" with the outcome of the talks. "We are in competition with autocrats and autocratic governments around the world whether or not democracies can compete with them in a rapidly changing 21st century," he said. "I left the meeting with all of my colleagues and believe me they believe this is the right thing to do," he added.
The UK, US, Canada and the EU announced a series of sanctions against Chinese officials for human rights abuses in Xinjiang in March. Cracks across China were evident long before the front runners hit Cornwall on Thursday.
Mr Johnson, host of the summit, initially proposed the forging of a semi-formal "D10" group of democracies with host powers Australia, India, South Africa and South Korea in what critics have described as a thinly veiled attempt to forge an anti-Chinese alliance. The idea was dropped after objections from France, Germany and Japan.
However, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi supported Mr Biden's stance, saying the G7 must be open to China.
"It is an autocracy that does not abide by multilateral rules and does not share the same worldview as the democracies," he said.
Mr Draghi also said Italy would "carefully consider" its membership of the Belt and Road Initiative, which it joined in 2019, before Mr Draghi becomes Prime Minister. So far it is the only country in the European Union that has done this.
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