Biden gets G-7 reset

President brings the United States back in the good graces of its allies.


National News

June 14, 2021 - 9:56 AM

From left, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, President of the European Council Charles Michel, US President Joe Biden, Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Italy's Prime minister Mario Draghi, France's President Emmanuel Macron, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel pose for the family photo at the start of the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall on June 11, 2021. (Leon Neal/POOL/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

President Joe Biden entered his first international summit looking for a breakthrough on vaccine pledges for low-income countries, a united front on China and to tee up his meeting this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It wasn’t perfect. But, for Biden, it was enough.

Biden left the United Kingdom on Sunday after a meeting with Group of Seven leaders who took pains to show unity, even in cases where they found themselves quietly at odds. Biden clamored for a crackdown on China before settling for a more modest condemnation, and emerged having quelled complaints about U.S. vaccine hoarding with a new donation.

Broadly, Biden sought to set a new tone after the tumultuous Donald Trump years. Other G-7 leaders were visibly relieved to have a return to a more predictable and traditional U.S. administration. France’s Emmanuel Macron welcomed him back to the “club.”

Yet under the surface, tensions remain. The bloc fell short of its own vaccine goal — 613 million new doses pledged, instead of a billion — and the leaders are at odds over how explicitly their group should be trying to counter China. But Biden took the outcome and called it a win.

“The bottom line is, I was very pleased with the outcome of the entire conference,” Biden said at a closing news conference Sunday. “I think we made some progress in reestablishing American credibility among our closest friends and our values.”

THE SUCCESS of a leader’s agenda at the G-7 is the communique, which is signed off on by every leader. On China, Biden said he was “satisfied,” but the verdict is mixed. He was pushing allies to agree to a multi-pronged effort to counter China’s influence around the world, including an ambitious infrastructure program and a campaign against Beijing’s use of forced labor.

But several leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, pushed back over worries about turning the G-7 into an anti-China group, suggesting any infrastructure program should be framed as a more positive, pro-environment effort.

“I welcome very much that a task force has been created today. But this is not about being against something, but for something,” Merkel said at one point in the summit, a rejection of any call to specifically line up against China. “It is the claim of the G-7 to have a positive agenda for many countries in the world, which still need to catch up.” She will visit Biden at the White House in July.

The end-of-summit communique did include mentions of China, but not Beijing specifically when it condemned forced labor. The U.S. had pressed the G-7 to launch an infrastructure program to counter China’s Belt and Road initiative and to take other steps to counter Beijing.

From left, first lady Jill Biden, President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Carrie Johnson walk outside Carbis Bay Hotel, Carbis Bay, Cornwall, ahead of the G-7 summit in Cornwall, England, on June 10, 2021. (Toby Melville/PA Photos/Abaca Press/TNS)

Instead they created a task force to study how to spur infrastructure development abroad. It made no mention of Belt and Road, though Biden renewed his call in a press conference.

“I proposed that we have a democratic alternative to the Belt and Road initiative, to build back better,” he said, repeating a campaign slogan of his. “We put together a committee to do that and come up with that.”

The vaccine effort gave Biden some help with his China push. Biden has criticized China for a transactional brand of vaccine diplomacy, where the shots are being doled out for geopolitical advantage. Biden has called on democracies to counter China and Russia by donating vaccines equally and based on need, without seeking favors in return.

Biden’s debut summit was a closely choreographed affair at a beachside estate in St. Ives, U.K. The chance of gaffes was diminished by how little of the summit took place in the public eye. Biden hardly spoke in the rare snippets of summit sessions that unfolded before cameras, and met a series of leaders — Merkel, Japan’s Yoshihide Suga, South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, a joint session with host Boris Johnson and Australia’s Scott Morrison — without calling press in.

Instead, his appearances were brief and occasionally cheeky. A day before the summit, he met the newly wedded Johnson and cracked a joke about both of them having married above their station.