How to deal with a more economically assertive and sometimes politically belligerent China dominated the official and unofficial dialogue among G7 leaders on Saturday, a senior government official said.
It also featured prominently during a brief face-to-face conversation between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden on the margins of the summit.
In both discussions, the official, who spoke on background, said Trudeau raised the plight of two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, detained by Beijing in retaliation for the arrest of a senior Chinese telecom executive, Meng Wanzhou.
Trudeau and Biden spoke directly about the ongoing work to secure the release of the two men. Whereas among all of the leaders there was a further, broader discussion about the ongoing detention and the international show of solidarity that accompanied their trials, said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly.
Border reopening also discussed
Separately, the prime minister and the president also talked about the steps both countries are considering to cautiously and gradually reopen the border.
It is the first time the two have met face-to-face since Biden was elected president last November, although they have had virtual conversations.
Among the G7 leaders meeting at Carbis Bay, along England’s southwest coast, the challenge that was front and centre was the struggle of how to compete with Beijing’s increasingly aggressive drive to sign up developing countries for economic infrastructure projects.
Known as the “Belt and Road” initiative, the Chinese government has been financing the construction of key infrastructure projects — ports, railways and airfields — in strategic locations around the world with the intention of extending influence.
The U.S. is advocating for a G7 initiative that is being dubbed “Build Back Better for the World,” a global infrastructure plan where the world’s leading democracies would offer an alternative to the Chinese plan.
“As we come together on this partnership, our G7 partners have agreed that our real purpose here is to demonstrate that democracies and open societies can come together and deliver a positive choice to meet some of the biggest challenges of our time, not just for our people, but for people all over the world,” said a senior U.S. administration official, who also spoke on background, prior to the start of Saturday’s meeting.
Following the morning session, the Canadian official, briefing journalists travelling with Trudeau, said there was broad consensus on the overall strategic approach to China.
The official, however, tried to downplay the obvious divisions between the more strident U.S., Britain and Canada, on the one hand, and somewhat lukewarm European G7 members, some of whom have shown interest in Chinese infrastructure projects.
The World Bank estimates there is cumulative a need for $40 trillion of new and renewed infrastructure in the developing world through 2035.