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Biden claims success at G-7 meeting's end

Leaders’ statement covers China, climate, pandemic by Compiled Democrat-Gazette Staff From Wire Reports | June 14, 2021 at 7:07 a.m.
President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference after attending the G-7 summit, Sunday, June 13, 2021, at Cornwall Airport in Newquay, England. Biden is en route to Windsor, England, to meet with Queen Elizabeth II, and then on to Brussels to attend the NATO summit. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

NEWQUAY, England -- President Joe Biden on Sunday said the United States had restored its presence on the world stage as he used his first overseas trip since taking office to connect with a new generation of leaders from some of the world's most powerful countries and more closely unite allies on addressing the coronavirus pandemic and China's trade and labor practices.

As he wrapped up three days of what he called "an extraordinarily collaborative and productive meeting" at the Group of Seven summit of wealthy democracies, Biden said there was "genuine enthusiasm" for his engagement.

"America's back in the business of leading the world alongside nations who share our most deeply held values," Biden said at a news conference. "I think we've made progress in reestablishing American credibility among our closest friends."

The president, who is on an eight-day, three-country trip, left his mark on the G-7 by announcing a commitment to share 500 million coronavirus vaccine doses with the world and pressing allies to do the same. The leaders Sunday confirmed their intent to donate more than 1 billion doses to low-income countries in the next year.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHUDzrxSFHQ]

"This is going to be a constant project for a long time," Biden said of the global vaccination campaign, adding that he hoped the world could stamp out the pandemic in 2022 or 2023. "It's not just the right thing to do" from a moral standpoint, Biden said, but also the correct thing to do "in terms of our own health."

He also said the U.S. might be able to donate an additional 1 billion doses in the coming years.

Biden implored China to give the international community access to the laboratories in Wuhan, where the coronavirus was detected in December 2019. He said he has not reached a conclusion about whether the virus spread from a lab leak or from animals, but he said transparency is critical to preparing for future pandemics.

"We have to have access," he said. "The world has to have access."

Biden also fought for the leaders' joint statement to include specific language criticizing China's use of forced labor and other human-rights abuses as he worked to cast the rivalry with Beijing as the defining competition of the 21st century. The president declined to discuss the private negotiations over the provision, but said he was "satisfied" with the tough rhetoric, though differences remained among the allies about how forcefully to call out Beijing.

"I think we're in a contest, not with China per se, but a contest with autocrats, autocratic governments around the world, as to whether or not democracies can compete with them in a rapidly changing 21st century," Biden told reporters.

Canada, the United Kingdom, France and Japan largely endorsed the Biden administration's position, while Germany, Italy and the European Union showed hesitancy during the talks, according to a senior official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan acknowledged that "countries had different levels of conviction about the depth of the challenge."

"But when you add it all up, actually the whole became greater than the sum of its parts, because there is a broad view that China represents a significant challenge to the world's democracies, on a number of different dimensions," Sullivan said.

The leaders wanted to convey that the G-7 is a better friend to poorer nations than authoritarian rivals such as China.

"This isn't about imposing our values on the rest of the world," British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters. "What we as the G-7 need to do is demonstrate the benefits of democracy and freedom and human rights to the rest of the world."

Gallery: G-7 summit, 6-13-2021

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"The G-7 is not a club hostile to China," French President Emmanuel Macron said. "It's an ensemble of democracies that [would] work with China on all world topics that China is ready to work on with us."

On climate change, the "Build Back Better for the World" plan promises to offer financing for infrastructure -- "from railways in Africa to wind farms in Asia" -- to help speed up the global shift to renewable energy. The plan is a response to China's Belt and Road Initiative, which has increased Beijing's worldwide influence.

The G-7 also made ambitious declarations about girls' education, preventing future pandemics and financing greener infrastructure globally.

The leaders also embraced Biden's call for a 15% global minimum corporate tax rate.

'ON SAME PAGE'

The other G-7 allies did their part in creating the impression that Biden was part of "the club" and sought to help reinforce Biden's "America is back" mantra, including by embracing his campaign slogan to "Build Back Better" from the pandemic.

"We're totally on the same page," Johnson said of Biden.

The president said he does not view NATO as a "protection racket." He also reported that global leaders were gratified that he accepted the science of climate change.

"One of the things some of my colleagues said to me when I was there was, 'Well, the United States' leadership recognizes there is global warming,'" Biden said.

The president was ending his day in Brussels for meetings with NATO and European Union leaders today and Tuesday before his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday in Geneva. U.S. officials said that one-on-one meeting would test whether the two men could develop a constructive relationship even as Biden was poised to rebuke Putin for a range of rights abuses and election interference.

Pressed at the news conference on why Putin has not changed his behavior after waves of U.S. sanctions, Biden replied with a laugh, "He's Vladimir Putin."

The summit marked some of Biden's first face-to-face meetings with global leaders since taking office in January amid the pandemic, including France's Macron, with whom he was meeting for the first time.

The 43-year-old Macron, who came into office months after Biden's two terms as vice president ended, appeared to have quick chemistry with the 78-year-old American. The two draped their arms around each other and chatted animatedly when they walked together after the leaders' photo at the beginning of Friday's session.

Macron noted his relief that with Biden, he was now working with an American president "willing to cooperate."

"What you demonstrate in leadership is partnership," Macron told him.

Biden also met with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa.

At the news conference, Biden briefly confused Syria and Libya when he described the importance of providing humanitarian aid to countries torn apart by civil war. It was among a handful of verbal stumbles he made.

NOT IMPRESSED

Health and environmental campaigners were distinctly unimpressed by the details in the leaders' final communique.

"This G-7 summit will live on in infamy," said Max Lawson, head of inequality policy at the international aid group Oxfam. "Faced with the biggest health emergency in a century and a climate catastrophe that is destroying our planet, they have completely failed to meet the challenges of our times."

Despite Johnson's call to "vaccinate the world" by the end of 2022, the promise of 1 billion doses for vaccine-hungry countries -- coming both directly and through donations to the international COVAX program -- falls far short of the 11 billion doses the World Health Organization said is needed to vaccinate at least 70% of the world's population and truly end the pandemic.

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the lack of a more ambitious plan was "an unforgivable moral failure."

But Biden said the leaders were clear that the commitments they made to donate doses wouldn't be the end. He said getting shots into arms around the world was a "gigantic logistical effort" and the goal might not be accomplished until 2023.

"We are going flat-out and we are producing vaccines as fast as we can," Johnson said.

All G-7 countries have pledged to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, but many environmentalists say that will be too little, too late.

Naturalist David Attenborough addressed the leaders by video Sunday, warning that humanity is "on the verge of destabilizing the entire planet."

"If that is so, then the decisions we make this decade -- in particular the decisions made by the most economically advanced nations -- are the most important in human history," the documentary filmmaker said.

Thousands of environmental protesters gathered beyond the fences and barbed wire throughout the weekend to accuse the G-7 of missing a chance to prevent climate catastrophe.

Members of the Extinction Rebellion climate activism group blocked the main road of the town of St. Ives on Sunday, banging drums and sitting on the road. Elsewhere, hundreds of surfers and kayakers paddled out to sea to urge better protection for the world's oceans.

"G-7 is all green-washing," protesters sang during one march. "We're drowning in promises, now's the time to act."

And Beijing chafed at the group's new focus on China. "The days when global decisions were dictated by a small group of countries are long gone," a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in London said Sunday. "We always believe that countries, big or small, strong or weak, poor or rich, are equals, and that world affairs should be handled through consultation by all countries."

ROYAL MEETING

Biden met Queen Elizabeth II on a bright Sunday afternoon.

The queen hosted the president and first lady Jill Biden at Windsor Castle, her royal residence near London. Biden flew to London after wrapping up his participation in the summit, arriving at the castle aboard the presidential helicopter and being ferried to the queen in a black Range Rover.

The 95-year-old monarch greeted the Bidens in the castle's quadrangle, where she waited beneath a covered dais that shielded her from the sun on one of the hottest days of the year so far in the United Kingdom. Soldiers from the Queen's Company First Battalion Grenadier Guards gave a royal salute and the Bidens placed their hands over their hearts as the U.S. national anthem was played.

The president was then led across the grass for an inspection of the Guard of Honor. He wore a stern expression after he had removed his trademark sunglasses, but when the 78-year-old Biden got to the end of the row, he smiled for the soldier in front of him who held up a sword. The queen and Jill Biden remained on the dais.

Biden returned to the dais and he, the first lady and the white-gloved woman who has held the British throne for nearly 70 years watched the military march past before they went inside for tea. As they left the dais, Biden offered the queen an elbow. She declined and stepped down on her own power, using the handrail.

The Bidens emerged from the castle just shy of having spent a full hour with the queen and boarded the helicopter for the return trip to London.

At Heathrow Airport, Biden talked about the queen with his traveling press corps, saying she was "very gracious," that she asked him about Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping and that he had invited her to visit the White House.

"I don't think she'll be insulted, but she reminded me of my mother," Biden said before he boarded Air Force One for his next stop, Brussels.

Information for this article was contributed by Jonathan Lemire, Aamer Madhani, Zeke Miller, Kelvin Chan, Darlene Superville, Jill Lawless, Sylvia Hui, Danica Kirka, Nicole Winfield, Kirsten Grieshaber and Frank Jordans of The Associated Press; and by Karla Adam, Ashley Parker, Tyler Pager, John Hudson and Anne Gearan of The Washington Post.

US President Joe Biden inspects a Guard of Honour after arriving to meet Britain's Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle near London, Sunday, June 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, Pool)
US President Joe Biden inspects a Guard of Honour after arriving to meet Britain's Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle near London, Sunday, June 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, Pool)
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, right, walks with US President Joe Biden during his visit to Windsor Castle, near London, Sunday June 13, 2021. (Chris Jackson/Pool Photo via AP)
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, right, walks with US President Joe Biden during his visit to Windsor Castle, near London, Sunday June 13, 2021. (Chris Jackson/Pool Photo via AP)
President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference after attending the G-7 summit, Sunday, June 13, 2021, at Cornwall Airport in Newquay, England. Biden is en route to Windsor, England, to meet with Queen Elizabeth II, and then on to Brussels to attend the NATO summit. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference after attending the G-7 summit, Sunday, June 13, 2021, at Cornwall Airport in Newquay, England. Biden is en route to Windsor, England, to meet with Queen Elizabeth II, and then on to Brussels to attend the NATO summit. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II stands with US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden as they listen to the US national anthem at Windsor Castle near London, Sunday, June 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II stands with US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden as they listen to the US national anthem at Windsor Castle near London, Sunday, June 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference after attending the G-7 summit, Sunday, June 13, 2021, at Cornwall Airport in Newquay, England. Biden is en route to Windsor, England, to meet with Queen Elizabeth II, and then on to Brussels to attend the NATO summit. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference after attending the G-7 summit, Sunday, June 13, 2021, at Cornwall Airport in Newquay, England. Biden is en route to Windsor, England, to meet with Queen Elizabeth II, and then on to Brussels to attend the NATO summit. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
President Joe Biden arrives for the final session of the G-7 summit in Carbis Bay, England, Sunday, June 13, 2021. (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP, Pool)
President Joe Biden arrives for the final session of the G-7 summit in Carbis Bay, England, Sunday, June 13, 2021. (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP, Pool)
President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference after attending the G-7 summit, Sunday, June 13, 2021, at Cornwall Airport in Newquay, England. Biden is en route to Windsor, England, to meet with Queen Elizabeth II, and then on to Brussels to attend the NATO summit. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference after attending the G-7 summit, Sunday, June 13, 2021, at Cornwall Airport in Newquay, England. Biden is en route to Windsor, England, to meet with Queen Elizabeth II, and then on to Brussels to attend the NATO summit. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden stand with Britain's Queen Elizabeth II watching a Guard of Honour march past before their meeting at Windsor Castle near London, Sunday, June 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, Pool)
US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden stand with Britain's Queen Elizabeth II watching a Guard of Honour march past before their meeting at Windsor Castle near London, Sunday, June 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, Pool)
President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference after attending the G-7 summit, Sunday, June 13, 2021, at Cornwall Airport in Newquay, England. Biden is en route to Windsor, England, to meet with Queen Elizabeth II, and then on to Brussels to attend the NATO summit. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference after attending the G-7 summit, Sunday, June 13, 2021, at Cornwall Airport in Newquay, England. Biden is en route to Windsor, England, to meet with Queen Elizabeth II, and then on to Brussels to attend the NATO summit. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
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