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G7 leaders take on China and plan to battle new pandemics

The G7 on Saturday unveiled US-led plans to counter China in infrastructure funding for poorer nations, and a new accord to battle future pandemics, as the elite group advertised Western unity at its first in-person summit since 2019.

President Joe Biden is touting a message of revived US leadership on his first foreign tour, declaring "America is back" after the tumultuous administration of Donald Trump.

"We're on the same page," Biden told reporters as he met French President Emmanuel Macron on the summit sidelines, pushing to rally the West against a resurgent China and recalcitrant Russia.

Asked if other G7 leaders agreed with him about a US diplomatic renaissance, Biden pointed to Macron, who replied: "Definitely."

Promising to "collectively catalyse" hundreds of billions of infrastructure investment for low- and middle-income countries, the G7 leaders said they would offer a "values-driven, high-standard and transparent" partnership.

Their "Build Back Better World" (B3W) project is aimed squarely at competing with China's trillion-dollar Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, which has been widely criticised for saddling small countries with unmanageable debt but has included even G7 member Italy since launching in 2013. 

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

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose nation has huge investments in China, called it an "important initiative" that was much-needed in infrastructure-poor Africa. 

"We can't sit back and say that China will do it but it's the G7's ambition to have a positive agenda for a number of countries in the world which are still lagging behind... I welcome it," she said.

Britain meanwhile hailed G7 agreement on the "Carbis Bay Declaration" -- a series of commitments to curb future pandemics after Covid-19 wrecked economies and claimed millions of lives around the world.

The collective steps include slashing the time taken to develop and license vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics for any future disease to under 100 days while reinforcing global surveillance networks.

The G7 -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States -- will formally publish the pact on Sunday, alongside its final summit communique containing further details on the B3W.

COVID vaccines

"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 Organization 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 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 buildup 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.

The regimes of Belarus and Myanmar are among those in the G7's sights. Biden pushed also for measures against China's alleged forced labour practices, including against the Uyghur minority.

The US official said Biden wanted "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.

Brexit frictions

The US president will also seek to address frayed relations with Moscow, in particular over its cyber activity.

Most of the G7 leaders will reconvene Monday in Brussels for a NATO meeting, before Biden heads on to his first summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, vowing to deliver a blunt message about Russian behaviour.

In a rare interview with US media released Friday, Putin voiced hope that Biden would be less impetuous than Trump, who notoriously sided with the Russian leader against the views of his own intelligence chiefs.

"It is my great hope that, yes, there are some advantages, some disadvantages, but there will not be any impulse-based movements on behalf of the sitting US president," Putin told NBC News.

Closer to home for the G7 hosts, Johnson came under concerted pressure in separate meetings with the leaders of France, Germany and the European Union to respect his Brexit commitments over Northern Ireland.

He later said Britain will "not hesitate" to suspend a post-Brexit protocol governing trade there if the EU refuses to change tack. 

Topics: G7 Summit , China , pandemic , Joe Biden , Emmanuel Macron , "Build Back Better World"
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