Global Economy

Biden Pushes G-7 to Criticize China Over Forced-Labor Allegations


ST. IVES, England—President

Biden

is pushing world leaders to call out China over allegations of forced labor in Xinjiang as the Group of Seven leading economies agreed to a global infrastructure plan meant to compete with Beijing.

Mr. Biden joined leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.K. for a session focused on China on the second day of the G-7 summit. The issue of how aggressively to address China has divided world leaders, with Mr. Biden urging democratic nations to jointly confront Beijing and French President

Emmanuel Macron

calling for a more cautious approach.

During Saturday’s 90-minute closed-door session on China, leaders disagreed over how to take forward their varying levels of concern about Beijing, officials said. British Prime Minister

Boris Johnson

suggested creating a formal task force on China. However, some leaders questioned what the task force would achieve.

While all the G-7 members harbor worries about China, their concerns aren’t uniform, officials said. German Chancellor

Angela Merkel

is among the European Union leaders pushing for a more positive approach to be taken toward China. Mr. Biden, Mr. Johnson and Canadian Prime Minister

Justin Trudeau

called on the G-7 leaders to confront China about human-rights abuses, according to one official. The Japanese government also wants a more hard-line stance to be taken against Beijing.

Leaders and their delegations were still negotiating the details of a communiqué expected to be released at the end of the summit. It remains unclear whether the document will call out China by name, according to people familiar with the talks.

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Another senior Biden administration official said the U.S. was pushing to name China in the communiqué. “It’s an expression of our shared values to make clear what we won’t tolerate as the United States and as a G-7, so we think it’s critical to call out the use of forced labor,” the official said.

World leaders gathered in Cornwall, England, for the first day of the G-7 summit on Friday. As they posed for a socially distanced photo on the beach, protesters marched nearby to demand they focus on tackling climate change. Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Human-rights groups and the U.S. and U.K. governments have alleged that Chinese authorities are committing genocide against ethnic Uyghurs, a Muslim minority group, and using forced labor in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang. The Chinese government has called the allegations lies, saying it is combating terrorism and improving livelihoods in Xinjiang.

In May, ahead of this week’s meeting, the G-7 foreign leaders crafted a statement that called out China by name.

“In line with its obligations under international and national law, we call on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms,” G-7 foreign ministers said in the joint statement, highlighting alleged abuses in Xinjiang.

The G-7 nations also unveiled a new infrastructure initiative known as “Build Back Better World.” The plan, according to a Biden administration official, is meant to be an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a global infrastructure effort aimed at binding China more closely to the rest of the world.

The White House said the plan will catalyze hundreds of billions of dollars—from G-7 countries and the private sector—for low- and middle-income countries, adding that investments would be held to high environmental, labor, anticorruption and transparency standards.

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One of the Biden administration officials added that the U.S. hopes to work with Congress to get additional money approved for the program.

There was more agreement among the G-7 leaders about the new infrastructure initiative, the Biden administration officials said, adding that several nations who are more concerned about directly confronting China viewed it their preferred approach to counter Beijing.

Some European leaders like Mr. Macron have warned against antagonizing China, arguing it is counterproductive and could complicate their efforts to seek Beijing’s cooperation on issues like climate change, trade and finance. Messrs. Biden and Macron are scheduled to meet Saturday.

Biden administration officials said they weren’t trying to make China the overriding issue at the summit.

“This is not just about confronting or taking on China; this is about providing a positive, affirmative vision for the world,” the official said.

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Mr. Biden has said a central theme of his three-country trip would be to unify democratic nations to counter what he describes as the rising influence of autocracies. On Thursday, G-7 countries agreed to collectively provide one billion Covid-19 doses for other countries, a bid to show that democratic nations are taking the lead in helping the world recover from the pandemic.

G-7 leaders will meet later Saturday to discuss other foreign-policy issues, as well as global health. Leaders will discuss climate change on Sunday, the last day of the summit. U.S. officials said G-7 countries were planning to announce climate-related measures intended to ratchet up efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

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Following the G-7 summit, Mr. Biden will travel to Brussels for meetings with members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and senior European Union officials. China also is expected to be on the agenda at the NATO meeting, U.S. officials said.

After the NATO summit, Mr. Biden will fly to Geneva for a meeting with Russian President

Vladimir Putin.

Biden Visits Europe

More coverage of the president’s trip, selected by the editors.

Write to Andrew Restuccia at andrew.restuccia@wsj.com and Max Colchester at max.colchester@wsj.com

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