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The world’s leaders are grappling with how hard they can deal with China

It has been a back-and-forth that reflected the divisive issue that China has become among its Western allies – even with what Europeans see as the welcoming presence of US President Joe Biden – while leaders grapple with that Debate the country’s rise as a geopolitical and economic counterweight to the democracies they represent.

“This morning we wanted to dig a little deeper into some of the … more difficult elements within the G7’s positioning, how hard it is to push, and challenge some of the actions China is taking,” said a senior US government official.

The final language will be revealed on Sunday at the end of the G-7 summit, held for the first time since 2019 after the 2020 meeting was canceled during the pandemic. And, despite the differing positions, the final text will likely be the largest G-7 language on China since President Xi Jinping became Chinese leader in 2012.

There are two sections under discussion on China – one that could deal with human rights and another that could offer countries funding alternatives to Beijing’s so-called Belt and Road Initiative, a global infrastructure development project.

It is the first section that was a struggle for consensus for diplomats.

While the US and its European allies agree to aggressively address China’s human rights behavior – and even jointly sanctioned the country in March for its treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang – they are partly on the rhetoric they are supposed to use against Beijing due to different economic considerations.

For example, the EU previously signed an investment deal with China, but later put the deal on hold amid mounting tensions with Beijing.

According to the senior US government official, France largely supports singling out China for its forced labor practices, but EU, German and Italian diplomats have been more reluctant.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said the discussions about China were “very exciting and interesting” and emphasized her view that the G-7 should try to find a balance.

“On the one hand, we know that the social systems of the G-7 countries and China are different. We criticize the human rights issues in China, be it Xinjiang or the restriction of freedoms in Hong Kong, of course, calling for free access to international waters. These are very important issues, “she said.

“On the other hand, we are also cooperative on many issues. I would like to mention climate issues and biodiversity issues, for example, but also free trade,” she told reporters on Saturday evening.

Merkel said that the G-7 countries had all committed to a “rule-based international and multilateral cooperation mechanism” in dealing with China with the involvement of international organizations.

“The subject of forced labor is certainly being addressed,” she added. She also defended the EU-China investment agreement, noting that it referred to the core standards of the International Labor Organization.

At the end of the day, a second US official said the countries had bridged some of their differences in the language of the communiqué without providing details. But in a statement, the official said there is “growing convergence” among G-7 countries when it comes to highlighting China’s “human rights violations, including in Xinjiang.”

“Since some members did not even want to mention China three years ago, this is a big change in a short period of time,” the official added.

Another human rights issue at stake is whether certain Beijing inmates should be named in the communiqué.

Canada has been following the issue vigorously and has tried to mention both Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who have been incarcerated in China since late 2018.

“Western democracies that are in the G-7 should not hesitate to take all of these measures, where appropriate, even to contest,” said Canadian High Commissioner Ralph Goodale to reporters on Friday.

The seven countries tend to agree on another area: global infrastructure finance.

Diplomats finalize what they call “Build Back Better for the World” (a nod to the domestic political slogans of Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson). It is an initiative to free up hundreds of billions of dollars from both government and private industry for developing countries that may be inclined to accept funds from China.

The G-7 have criticized Beijing for driving countries into debt with its Belt and Road loan offers, depriving them of many benefits of new infrastructure or economic investment.

The White House said it wants the G-7 nations to commit to a “higher quality” alternative to belt-and-road funding and offer investments that meet better climate standards and labor practices. It would be funded in part with existing US contributions to finance overseas infrastructure through the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

“The United States and many of our partners and friends around the world have long been skeptical of China’s Belt and Road Initiative,” said the second US official. “We have seen that the Chinese government has shown a lack of transparency, poor environmental and labor standards and an approach that has put many countries worse off.”

The official added, “But until now we have not offered a positive alternative that reflects our values, our standards and the way we do business.”

The White House declined to indicate how much money the US would contribute and said it was still negotiating with other countries. The US is already investing billions of dollars in infrastructure funding overseas and plans to work with Congress to do more.

While all sides work out a final text, the other big actor – Japan – veiledly urged Europe to act more economically.

“With the European Union, we have assisted in a number of their discussions on various topics such as economic conduct, market distortion measures and also China’s economic aid that are incompatible with international regulations,” the Foreign Ministry Tomoyuki Koshida affairs spokesman told reporters. “We hope that Europe and Japan and other like-minded countries will deepen such discussions in the future.”

Stuart Lau reported from Brussels and David M. Herszenhorn from Falmouth, England.

Anna Isaac, Esther Webber, and Rym Momtaz contributed to this report.

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