G7 leaders end summit with warning to China


Official attendees of the G7 summit pose for a group photograph in Borgo Egnazia, near Bari in southern Italy, on June 14, 2024. [AP Photo]

The G7 leaders ended their summit with their starkest warning yet to China, declaring that Beijing's support of Moscow's military industrial base is "enabling Russia to maintain its illegal war in Ukraine."

Leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy democracies said they are "committed to raising the costs of Russia's war," threatening more sanctions against actors who aid Moscow to circumvent them.

The warning is part of the communique, or joint statement, released by leaders as they wrapped up their second summit day in Apulia, Italy. It contained the toughest language yet toward Beijing, reflecting frustration on the part of U.S. President Joe Biden on China's role in propping up the Russian war machine in Ukraine.

Beijing is supplying the technology to produce weapons for Russia, Biden said Thursday evening during a joint news conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. "So, it is, in fact, helping Russia," he said.

G7 leaders highlighted security threats they say China poses to the global economy — including its overcapacity in electric vehicles and its trade and investment practices in developing nations.

The European Union on Wednesday announced higher tariffs of up to 38% on Chinese electric vehicle imports amid investigations into whether Chinese automakers are dumping government-subsidized, less expensive EVs onto European markets.

Beijing said it "will take all measures necessary" to defend its interests but stopped short of retaliation against the EU.

Earlier this year the United States quadrupled tariffs on Chinese EVs to 100% and imposed steep increases on certain Chinese steel and aluminum products, solar cells and semiconductors.

"As time goes on, it's more clear that [Chinese] President Xi [Jinping]'s ambition is to restore China's dominance, at least in the Indo Pacific, possibly beyond. And that effort is mostly taking place through an effort to establish economic and technological primacy," a senior Biden administration official told reporters traveling with the president on Friday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic matters.

Beijing's support for Russia could "pose a long-term threat to Europe's security," the official warned.

Earlier this week, the U.S. announced secondary sanctions targeting those helping Moscow, including China-based companies that sell semiconductors to Russia and smaller Chinese banks with ties to Russian financial institutions that are already sanctioned.

Beijing denounced the sanctions, accusing Washington of using the war "as an opportunity" to suppress other countries. "All of it reveals the U.S.'s calculations, hypocrisy and what a bully it is," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian on Thursday.

Global infrastructure investments

The G7 reaffirmed commitment to reform multilateral development banks, including the World Bank, but fell short of agreeing on a debt relief and restructuring package for low- and middle-income countries.

The group has long sought to counter Beijing's offering of infrastructure loans to developing nations through its massive Belt and Road Initiative, estimated to total trillions of dollars and which some in the West characterize as "debt-trap diplomacy." In response, they are aiming to stimulate $600 billion in private infrastructure funding by 2027 through their own program, the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, or PGI.

G7 countries have developed their own initiatives to support PGI, such as summit host Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's Mattei Plan to bolster investments in Africa.

The U.S. has narrowed its earlier plans and is now focused on developing infrastructure corridors with key partners EU and Japan, including the Lobito Corridor, which connects the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and Angola, and the Luzon Corridor in the Philippines.

It's not a "scaling down on ambitions," another senior administration official told VOA Thursday during a briefing for reporters. "What the president wants to do is to say, let's focus on a smaller subset of countries, but go deeper."

The official acknowledged China is ahead in its global development game.

"We're famous for coming in, we say a lot of nice things, we have a lot of expectations, and then we walk away. The other people come in, don't say very much, but leave a check behind," the official said. "The time has come to change that."

Pope highlights artificial intelligence

G7 leaders pledged to promote "safe, secure, and trustworthy AI" and "AI governance that fosters inclusion" while mitigating risks to human rights and governance fragmentation.

The group had an interesting ally in Pope Francis, who delivered remarks on AI ethics in a special session with leaders. Last year the Catholic leader fell victim to AI-generated memes showing him wearing an expensive designer jacket, riding a motorcycle, flying a fighter jet, DJ-ing in a night club, and in other incongruous settings.

Meloni is seeking to bolster Francis' initiative, the Rome Call for AI Ethics. It urges governments, institutions and businesses to ensure "digital innovation and technological progress serve human genius and creativity and not their gradual replacement."

Much work needs to be done as regulatory landscapes across G7 members vary, Raluca Csernatoni, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Europe, told VOA.

"These inconsistencies and the lack of a unifying/harmonizing logic will be difficult to navigate — politically, for G7 members to achieve interoperability; internationally, for the principles to extend beyond their current scope and be adopted globally; and economically, for global business across these key markets," he said in an email.

The pope could refocus attention on AI ethics, including the protection of vulnerable people and mitigating global digital divides, Csernatoni said, albeit with "a Catholic underpinning."

Abortion controversy

The Catholic underpinning of the summit is creating division elsewhere, with Italy insisting on removal of a reference to "safe and legal abortion" from the final communique. At the G7 summit last year in Hiroshima, Japan, the communique called for "access to safe and legal abortion and post-abortion care."

The removal of the phrase was a win for Meloni but protested by other leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron. Biden himself is a devout Catholic but has been a proponent of women's reproductive rights, including abortion.

The senior administration official downplayed the disagreement.

"The language related to abortion says we reiterated our commitments from the Hiroshima communique," the official told VOA. "Some of the words may not be identical, but the commitments are the same."

Migration and Gaza

Leaders committed to addressing the root cause of migration, border management and countering the smuggling of migrants. Far-right leader Meloni campaigned on anti-migrant rhetoric but has made investments in Africa to tackle migration to Europe, a key theme of her G7 presidency.

The leaders also reaffirmed support for the latest Gaza cease-fire proposal. Biden said Thursday that he was not confident a pause in fighting would soon be achieved and that Hamas was responsible for the delay.

"I've laid out an approach that has been endorsed by the U.N. Security Council, by the G7, by the Israelis, and the biggest hang-up so far is Hamas refusing to sign on, even though they have submitted something similar," he said.

Biden returns to the U.S. after wrapping up G7 sessions and bilateral meetings with Meloni and the pope. He will attend campaign events in Los Angeles over the weekend.