G7 leaders take on China, Covid and climate

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G7 leaders on Saturday confronted China and the threat of future pandemics as the elite club of wealthy nations advertised a newfound Western unity at its first physical summit since 2019.

After an informal evening get-together -- featuring a Royal Air Force aerobatics display, beach barbecue, firepit marshmallows and a Cornish troupe singing sea shanties -- the leaders were to wrap up their three-day summit on Sunday.

At their concluding session in Cornwall, southwest England, US President Joe Biden and his colleagues will back new conservation and emission targets to curb climate change, according to the UK hosts.

In a "Nature Compact" to be released Sunday with the G7's final communique, they will commit to nearly halving their carbon emissions by 2030 -- relative to 2010 -- as well as vowing to halt and reverse biodiversity loss.

The leaders are also set to promise more financial support for developing countries on the sharp edge of climate change, in the buildup to the UN's COP26 environmental summit in Scotland in November.

Such actions were unthinkable under former president Donald Trump, but Biden is touting a message of revived US leadership on his first foreign tour.

"We're on the same page," Biden told reporters as he met French President Emmanuel Macron on the summit sidelines, pushing to rally the West against a resurgent China and recalcitrant Russia.

Asked if other G7 leaders agreed with him about a US diplomatic renaissance, Biden pointed to Macron, who replied: "Definitely."

- 'Build back better' -

Promising to "collectively catalyse" hundreds of billions of infrastructure investment for low- and middle-income countries, the G7 leaders said they would offer a "values-driven, high-standard and transparent" partnership.

Their "Build Back Better World" (B3W) project is aimed squarely at competing with China's trillion-dollar Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, which has been widely criticised for saddling small countries with unmanageable debt.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose nation has huge investments in China, called it an "important initiative" that was much needed in infrastructure-poor Africa.

Britain meanwhile hailed G7 agreement on the "Carbis Bay Declaration" -- a series of commitments to curb future pandemics after Covid-19 wrecked economies and claimed millions of lives around the world.

The collective steps include slashing the time taken to develop and license vaccines, treatments and diagnostics for any future disease to under 100 days, while reinforcing global surveillance networks.

The G7 -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States -- will formally publish the pact on Sunday, alongside the summit communique containing further details on the B3W.

- Covid vaccines -

"The #CarbisBayDeclaration marks a proud and historic moment for us all," British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Twitter.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, criticised in some quarters for being too accommodating towards China where the coronavirus originated, welcomed the health pact.

The G7 leaders are also expected to pledge to donate one billion vaccine doses to poor countries this year and next -- although campaigners say the rollout is much too slow to end the crisis now.

After briefing the leaders in Cornwall, Tedros said he had set them the challenge of vaccinating at least 70 percent of the world's population by their next summit in Germany in 2022.

"We welcome the generous announcement made by G7 nations about donations of vaccines but we need more and we need them faster," he told reporters. "Immediate donations are vital."

Aid charity Oxfam said the declaration "does nothing to address the fundamental problems that are preventing vaccines being accessible to the vast majority of humanity".

- 'Concrete action' -

The G7 was joined Saturday by the leaders of Australia, South Africa and South Korea, with India taking part remotely, for a wide-ranging discussion about foreign policy challenges.

The regimes of Belarus and Myanmar are among those in the G7's sights. Biden pushed also for measures against China's alleged forced labour practices, including against the Uyghur minority.

A US official said Biden wanted "concrete action" on the forced labour accusations, calling them "an affront to human dignity, and an egregious example of China's unfair economic competition".

China denies allegations that it is waging "genocide" by forcing up to one million Uyghurs and people from other ethnic-Turkic minorities into internment camps in the region of Xinjiang.

- Putin weighs in -

The US president will also seek to address frayed relations with Moscow, in particular over its cyber activity.

Most of the G7 leaders will reconvene Monday in Brussels for a NATO meeting, before Biden heads on to his first summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, vowing to deliver a blunt message about Russian behaviour.

In an interview with US network NBC News released Friday, Putin voiced hope that Biden would exhibit none of the "impulse-based movements" of Trump, who notoriously sided with the Russian leader against the views of his own intelligence chiefs.

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