Leaders of the G-7 wrapped up their first in-person meeting in two years agreeing to work together to combat the coronavirus pandemic, confront climate change, and — in a win for President Biden — counter the rising influence of China.
Biden has identified China as the top strategic challenge for the United States and its democratic allies, but had met some resistance during three days of talks in Cornwall about just how assertive to be on Beijing in the G-7's official joint statement. Some G-7 members are wary of crossing China given its economic might.
The G-7 communique, released on Sunday, called for a new "timely, transparent, expert-led, and science-based" study of the origins of COVID-19, to be led by the World Health Organization; support for infrastructure for developing countries to compete with China's "Belt and Road" initiative; and support for responding to China's "non-market economic practices."
It also included a public rebuke of China's human rights abuses in Xinjiang province and Hong Kong, and the use of forced labor in its solar, agriculture and garment sectors.
"I know this is gonna sound somewhat prosaic," Biden said in a press conference at the conclusion of the G-7 meetings. "I think we're in a contest. Not with China per se, but with autocrats, autocratic governments around the world, whether or not democracies can compete with them in the rapidly changing 21st century."
Biden urged China to be more transparent about the causes of COVID-19, saying the world still does not know whether the pandemic originated in a wet market in the Chinese city of Wuhan or if "it was an experiment gone awry in the lab."
Biden next goes to NATO in Brussels, where he will give full-throated U.S. support for the alliance. But he will also urge "modernization" for the 70-year-old alliance, the White House has said, a focus on new threats from China, climate change and cyberattacks.
In Brussels, he is expected to hear concerns from European leaders about why he has not yet lifted Trump-era national security tariffs slapped on imports of their steel and aluminum. Biden bristled when asked why they are still in place. "One hundred and twenty days," he said, referring to how long he has been in office. "Give me a break. Need time."
Biden is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva on Wednesday. There won't be the kind of side-by-side press conference that former President Donald Trump held with Putin in Helsinki in 2018; Biden said he didn't want to get into a "contest" about handshakes and body language.
Biden told reporters Sunday he agreed with Putin's assessment that relations between the two countries are "at a low point" and blamed Moscow's election meddling and hacking for that nadir. "I had access to all of the intelligence. He was engaged in all of those activities," Biden said.
While the U.S. is not looking for conflict, Biden said he is "looking to resolve those issues that we think are inconsistent with international norms." The G-7 also called out Russia for its "destabilizing behavior" including harboring organizations behind ransomware attacks and other hacking.
In his weekend of group meetings and private sessions that one adviser described as "diplomatic speed-dating," the dynamics were noticeably different for Biden than former President Donald Trump, who did not enjoy multilateral summits and often sparred with other leaders.
"I felt a genuine sense of enthusiasm that America was back at the table and fully, fully engaged," Biden said at a press conference at the conclusion of the summit.
Biden had one-on-one meetings with leaders from Germany, Italy and Japan. He met with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison — who as at the G-7 as a guest. He later met with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, another guest invited to the summit.
During his meetings with leaders, Biden also talked about the COVID-19 response, climate change, the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan and instability in the Sahel region of West Africa, the White House said.
"For all these issues, what we need is cooperation," said French President Emmanuel Macron at the beginning of an hour-long chat with Biden on Saturday, on a terrace overlooking the seaside.
"And I think it's great to have the U.S. president part of the club and very willing to cooperate," Macron said.