President Biden strove to refocus the G-7 Summit on China and infrastructure Saturday as he met one-on-one with French President Emmanuel Macron in his only formal bilateral confab of the day.
“Things are going, I think, well,” said a relaxed-looking Biden, squinting in the bright sunlight as the blue waters of Carbis Bay sparkled in the background. “As we say back in the States, we’re on the same page.”
Macron cited some of the hot-button issues — including climate change and the pandemic, but not ongoing conflicts with China — the G-7 countries are grappling with.
“For all these issues what we need is cooperation,” Macron told Biden. “And what you demonstrate is, leadership is partnership.”
But the warm exchange came shortly after deep divisions emerged within the group of leaders of the world’s largest industrial democracies over Biden’s call to denounce China’s anti-democratic policies — including forced labor in its Xinjiang province and the oppression of Uighurs and other minorities, CNN reported.
Internet service was cut off from the meeting room at one point to ensure secrecy for the debate that a White House official called “some interesting discussion.”
“There was … a little bit of differentiation of opinion on, not whether this threat is there but on how strong” the group’s response to it should be, the official said.
While the US, Britain and Canada advocated for outright condemnation of Chinese authoritarianism, the official said, members from the European Union balked.
The conflict will likely not be resolved until Sunday, when the group issues a communique that summarizes the summit’s results.
The proposal — dubbed “Build Back Better for the World,” or B3W, to echo Biden’s former campaign slogan — calls for spending hundreds of billions of dollars in public and private cash in low-income countries for climate projects, health initiatives, digital technology, and “gender equity and equality” programs.
China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road program has funded multiple projects — generally focusing on hard infrastructure like airports, roads and seaports — throughout Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
“This is not about making countries choose between us and China,” a senior administration official told reporters late Friday. “It won’t just be an alternative to the BRI, but we believe will beat the BRI by offering a higher-quality choice.”
However, post-Brexit trade squabbles between Britain and its former EU partners in threatened to overwhelm Biden’s ambitious agenda.
Biden’s conversation with Macron came hours after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson held a flurry of morning meetings with Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and other EU members to resolve escalating tensions over Northern Ireland and its land border with the trade bloc that Britain recently abandoned.
Johnson called for “compromise on all sides” to end the ongoing trade spat, which has isolated the region behind onerous trade barriers and has led to a resumption of separatist violence there.
“Currently as implemented, the protocol is having a damaging impact on the people of Northern Ireland,” a Johnson spokesman said. “We need to find urgent and innovative solutions.”
Biden was vocal in his support for the EU as he began his one-on-one with Macron.
“I for one think the EU is an incredibly strong and vibrant entity,” he said, calling it “the backbone and support for NATO.”