UPDATED: G7 scolds China and Russia over threats, bullying, rights abuses

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LONDON, May 5 (Reuters) – The Group of Seven scolded both China and Russia on Wednesday, casting the Kremlin as malicious and Beijing as a bully, but beyond words there were few concrete steps aside from expressing support for Taiwan and Ukraine.

Founded in 1975 as a forum for the West’s richest nations to discuss crises such as the OPEC oil embargo, the G7 this week addressed what it perceives as the biggest current threats: China, Russia and the coronavirus pandemic.

G7 foreign ministers, in a 12,400-word communique, said Russia was trying to undermine democracies and threatening Ukraine while China was guilty of human rights abuses and of using its economic clout to bully others.

There was, however, little concrete action mentioned in the communique that would unduly worry either Chinese President Xi Jinping or Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The G7 said it would bolster collective efforts to stop China’s “coercive economic policies” and to counter Russian disinformation – part of a move to present the West as a much broader alliance than just the core G7 countries.

“I think (China is) more likely to need to, rather than react in anger, it is more likely going to need to take a look in the mirror and understand that it needs to take into account this growing body of opinion, that thinks these basic international rules have got to be adhered to,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.

Russia denies it is meddling beyond its borders and says the West is gripped by anti-Russian hysteria. China says the West is a bully and that its leaders have a post-imperial mindset that makes them feel they can act like global policemen.

China’s spectacular economic and military rise over the past 40 years is among the most significant geopolitical events of recent history, alongside the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union that ended the Cold War.

XI AND PUTIN

The West, which combined is much bigger than China and Russia economically and militarily, has struggled to come up with an effective response to either China or Russia.

“We will work collectively to foster global economic resilience in the face of arbitrary, coercive economic policies and practices,” the G7 ministers said on China.

They said they supported Taiwan’s participation in World Health Organization forums and the World Health Assembly – and expressed concerns about “any unilateral actions that could escalate tensions” in the Taiwan Strait.

China regards Taiwan as its own territory and opposes any official Taiwanese representation on an international level.

On Russia, the G7 was similarly supportive of Ukraine but offered little beyond words.

“We are deeply concerned that the negative pattern of Russia’s irresponsible and destabilising behaviour continues,” G7 ministers said.

“This includes the large build-up of Russian military forces on Ukraine’s borders and in illegally-annexed Crimea, its malign activities aimed at undermining other countries’ democratic systems, its malicious cyber activity, and (its) use of disinformation.”

VACCINES

On the coronavirus pandemic, the G7 pledged to work with industry to expand the production of affordable COVID-19 vaccines, but stopped short of calling for a waiver of intellectual property rights of major pharma firms.

“We commit to working with  industry  to facilitate expanded manufacturing at scale of affordable COVID-19  vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics and their component parts,” the G7 foreign ministers said in a joint statement.

They said the work would include “promoting partnerships between companies, and  encouraging voluntary licensing and tech transfer agreements on mutually agreed terms”. 

COVID scare at G7 meeting after Indian delegates test positive

The Group of Seven meeting in London was hit by a COVID-19 scare on Wednesday when India’s foreign minister and his entire team said they were self-isolating after two delegation members tested positive.

Britain is hosting the three-day foreign ministers’ meeting – the first such G7 event in two years – which has been billed as a chance to restart face-to-face diplomacy and a opportunity for the West to show a united front against threats from China and Russia.

India, currently undergoing the world’s worst surge in COVID-19 cases, is attending the G7 as a guest and had been due to take part in meetings on Tuesday evening and throughout Wednesday.

“Was made aware yesterday evening of exposure to possible Covid positive cases,” Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said on Twitter.

“As a measure of abundant caution and also out of consideration for others, I decided to conduct my engagements in the virtual mode. That will be the case with the G7 Meeting today as well.”

The meeting is a precursor to a G7 summit due to take place at a rural English resort in June, with U.S. President Joe Biden and other world leaders set to attend.

A British official confirmed the two positive tests and said the entire Indian delegation was self-isolating. British rules require a 10-day self-isolation period.

The Indian delegation had not yet attended the main summit venue at Lancaster House, and so meetings scheduled for Wednesday went ahead as planned.

Asked if, in light of the positive tests, it had been a mistake to hold the summit in person, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “I think it’s very important to try to continue as much business as you can as a government.”

Johnson said he would speak with Jaishankar later on Wednesday by Zoom.

British foreign minister Dominic Raab said rules had been meticulously applied and had worked effectively and it remained important for the summit in June to go ahead.

“We know these systems work, we will be able to plan even more, and even more carefully,” he told reporters.

A final communique from the meeting scolded China and Russia, but provided few concrete measures.

FIST BUMPING

Earlier, Raab was seen greeting and fist-bumping other G7 members as they arrived at the venue.

“We deeply regret that Jaishankar will be unable to attend the meeting today in person,” a senior UK diplomat said. “This is exactly why we have put in place strict COVID protocols and daily testing.”

On Tuesday, pictures from inside the grand Lancaster House conference venue showed the reality of diplomacy in the coronavirus age – delegates separated by plastic screens, and a “family photo” of ministers carefully spaced two metres apart.

Jaishankar was pictured meeting British interior minister Priti Patel on Tuesday, although Patel did not have to self-isolate because the meeting had been held in line with existing rules. Both were wearing masks in the photograph.

India is not a G7 member but was invited by Britain to this week’s meeting, along with Australia, South Africa and South Korea.

The Indian High Commission in London did not respond to requests for comment. (Reporting by Andy Bruce, William James and Elizabeth Piper; editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Angus MacSwan and Giles Elgood)

Photo: People readjust the red carpet after if was blown out of place ahead of the arrival of the foreign ministers at the G7 Foreign and Development ministers meeting at Lancaster House in London, Britain. EPA-EFE/HOLLIE ADAMS / POOL

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