Leaders Head to Dinner as China Wrangling Continues: G-7 Update

Boris Johnson, gestures to Emmanuel Macron, alongside Angela Merkel,  at the G-7 leaders summit in U.K. (Photographer: Hollie Adams/Bloomberg)

Leaders Head to Dinner as China Wrangling Continues: G-7 Update

Group of Seven leaders are wrapping up the busiest day of their three-day summit, having discussed a path out of the Covid pandemic as well as economic plans to counter China’s growing clout. There have been some signs of tension through the day on exactly how hard to go when it comes to the message for Beijing.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is hosting fellow Group of Seven leaders along the English coast, with all eyes on Joe Biden at his first summit as U.S. president. But Johnson also has tricky waters to navigate: Tensions over Brexit are boiling over and risk overshadowing the event.

Key Developments:

  • Johnson all but confirms that England lockdown won’t be lifted
  • U.K. leader also told EU allies he’s willing to suspend Brexit protocol
  • Family photo took place along a stretch of sandy beach

Day two talks wrap up as leaders head for photo and then dinner (8:18 p.m.)

Leaders gathered for their second group photo of the summit, this time joined by the guest countries invited by Johnson -- South Korea, Australia and South Africa. India Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not attending in person, opting to stay home as the coronavirus hits hard.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel walked down to the seaside site for the photo with a mask on -- the only leader to do so -- which she removed briefly for the picture.

Tonight the expanded group will have a beachfront BBQ and some more casual mingling perhaps than last night’s formal dinner for the G-7 leaders. Still unknown is whether they have reached final agreement on a G-7 communique, given today’s haggling over China in particular. -- Rosalind Mathieson

Leaders Head to Dinner as China Wrangling Continues: G-7 Update

European nations want clearer remit for proposed China task force (4:01 p.m.)

Further haggling has emerged over how to tackle the China question within the G-7, especially a proposal to set up a task force. A European official disputed a U.S. characterization of the discussion that suggested Merkel and Italian premier Mario Draghi were taking a softer line on Beijing than others.

The official said all G-7 members support a tougher stance on China with a strategy of working with it on climate change, competing with it on trade and criticizing it over human rights. But both Merkel and Draghi want any task force to have a clearly-defined remit.

Merkel separately told reporters she didn’t want to frame a task force as an anti-China effort and that it needed a positive agenda focused on climate and trade: “This is not about being against something, but for something.” The European official cited some irritation at the U.S., saying it was seen to be framing announcements in ways that didn’t always reflect the conversation in the room. -- Alberto Nardelli, Arne Delfs

Biden and Macron face a barrage of media before their meeting (3:36 p.m.)

With the ocean as a backdrop (there was even a bit of sun), Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron sat across from each other at their one-on-one meeting Saturday looking relaxed, with a small table between them. Behind the cameras was a group of wolf-like reporters eager and ready to pounce with questions once the opening platitudes were exchanged about America being back and being on the same page with allies.

The French president, who slung his arm around Biden on Friday after the traditional G-7 “family” photo, waxed lyrical about how “it’s great to have the U.S. president part of the club, and very willing to cooperate.” Donald Trump, it’s implied, had not been as amenable.

When there was a pause, reporters began to shout questions over each other at the two men in what rapidly descended into a feeding frenzy that made the men smile. Amid the incomprehensible cacophony the media pack was escorted out by an official, whose firmness was rewarded. “Well done,” Macron told her. -- Flavia Krause-Jackson

Leaders Head to Dinner as China Wrangling Continues: G-7 Update

Canada feels caught in the middle between the U.S. and China (2:04 p.m.)

Biden spoke with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about China on the sidelines of the meeting, according to a Canadian official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Canada has been put in a difficult situation by the tougher U.S. approach to China, feeling squeezed between the two superpowers, the official said.

Trudeau and Biden discussed the two Canadians currently jailed in China on national security charges. They were detained after Canadian authorities arrested Huawei Technologies Co. Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition request. -- Kait Bolongaro

Johnson raises the stakes with EU on Brexit (1:20 p.m.)

The Brexit-related row with the European Union showed no sign of progress, as Johnson said the U.K. “will obviously not hesitate to invoke Article 16” to take unilateral action if tensions over trade rules for goods shipped to Northern Ireland cannot be resolved.

“Don’t forget, the EU themselves invoked Article 16 in January, to disapply the protocol, so they can stop removal of vaccines from the EU to the U.K.,” Johnson told Sky News. “I’ve talked to some of our friends here today, who do seem to misunderstand that the U.K. is a single country, a single territory. I just need to get that into their heads” -- Kitty Donaldson

Differences of opinion emerge on dealing with China (1:08 p.m.)

With some sessions of today’s talks focused on international issues, one European official pointed to disagreement about what a more united approach on China might look like.

Germany is hesitant about a proposal for an alternative to China’s Belt and Road infrastructure and trade initiative, believing there are already western actions around the world working to limit China’s advance, the official said. Germany is also reluctant to name a concrete amount for such a project, they said.

U.S. officials say the G-7 is discussing a plan to include a program dubbed Build Back Better for the World that is intended as a counterpoint to Belt and Road, a trillion-dollar undertaking that has seen Beijing finance a network of infrastructure projects. Bloomberg News reported previously the G-7 would launch a green alternative to Belt and Road. A U.S. official acknowledged there were differences among leaders on how far to go in calling out China on human rights violations and in competing with it on things like infrastructure. -- Arne Delfs

U.S. plans standalone briefing after Biden’s summit with Putin (12:06 p.m.)

Biden will hold a solo press conference after his Wednesday meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, a U.S. official said, ending any prospect of a joint event with both leaders.

Current plans include a larger working session with the U.S. and Russian delegations, as well as a smaller session afterward that includes Biden and Putin, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Biden will discuss topics raised in the meeting, including areas of agreement and of significant concern, the official said. Russian state-run news agency RIA Novosti cited Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying Putin will also hold a solo press conference after the talks.-- Josh Wingrove

U.K. pushes EU for compromise on Brexit protocol (11:25 a.m.)

The contentious Northern Ireland protocol -- affecting trade for the U.K. region -- featured strongly in Johnson’s talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel.

Johnson’s office said he emphasized that urgent compromises are needed to resolve day-to-day difficulties the Brexit deal is causing people in Northern Ireland, while preserving the peace in the region.

“The prime minister’s desire currently is to work within the existing protocol to find radical and pragmatic solutions,” Johnson’s spokesman Max Blain said at a briefing in Cornwall. Asked if the U.K. was no longer committed to the protocol in all circumstances, Blain said the government would not rule anything out for the future. -- Tim Ross

Leaders Head to Dinner as China Wrangling Continues: G-7 Update

Getting on the same page on Russia (10:24 a.m.)

One thing to watch for at the G-7 is efforts by European leaders to ensure they remain part of the conversation around a collective response to Russia, as Biden prepares to speak with Putin on Wednesday. Merkel, for one, is keen for Europe’s voice to be heard in that meeting.

Putin has in recent weeks spoken of Biden as a highly experienced leader, even as he describes ties with the U.S. as being at historic lows. In an interview with NBC News aired in part on Friday he suggested that -- despite tensions with the U.S. over cyberattacks and his treatment of dissidents -- he may be able to work with Biden in part because the current president is more predictable than Donald Trump. -- Rosalind Mathieson

Leaders Head to Dinner as China Wrangling Continues: G-7 Update

Macron tells Johnson it’s time for a reset (9:25 a.m.)

The French president, during a meeting with Johnson on Saturday morning, told his counterpart he was ready for a reset of the Franco-British relationship following months of tension, as long as the U.K. keeps its word and complies with the Brexit agreement -- a point Macron strongly emphasized.

The French leader pointed out the two countries have a common vision for international and transatlantic relations, including on arms control, according to an official in the G-7 delegation. -- Ania Nussbaum

U.K. tells EU not to be ‘bloody-minded’ (9:10 a.m.)

As Johnson was meeting Macron, U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab stepped up his attacks on the European Union in the dispute over trade in Northern Ireland.

The choice over whether the argument escalates is one for the Europeans, he told BBC radio.

“They can be more pragmatic about the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol in a way that is win-win or they can be bloody-minded and purist about it, in which case I am afraid we will not allow the integrity of the U.K. to be threatened,” he said. -- Kitty Donaldson

Macron to meet Biden for bilateral today (earlier)

Macron will meet Biden on Saturday afternoon for their first in-person, one-on-one meeting, after a cozy embrace Friday, when the French president put his arm around his U.S. counterpart while they were walking.

The French leader has been keen to praise Biden’s return to the Paris climate accord and his overall re-engagement with Europe. But he has also taken veiled jabs at the U.S. president by highlighting the shortcomings of some of Washington’s recent proposals, such as lifting intellectual property patents on Covid vaccines. -- Ania Nussbaum

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