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Cornwall Produces the Build Back Better World Initiative

Alexandre El Ghaoui, London Politica, and Tristen Naylor, G7 Research Group
June 13, 2021

At the morning' foreign policy plenary session at the Cornwall Summit on June 13, U.S. president Joe Biden pushed the G7 to challenge China's rising global influence as a unified front. Central to this push is the Americans' launch of a global infrastructure project for low-income and developing countries that would rival Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative. The initiative, dubbed the "Build Back Better World" (B3W), will focus on narrowing the developing world's $40 trillion infrastructure needs by 2035 though the establishment of  "values-driven, high-standard, and transparent" partnerships between recipient countries and wealthy democracies.

While all attendees are in unison that China's economic, political and value systems are fundamentally different from theirs, pointing to Beijing's treatment of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang, labour practices in its supply chains and its export practices, stark disagreements emerged on not only how far and publically the G7 should press the world's largest economy, but how the B3W plan should be presented and funded.

The United States, Canada and the United Kingdom support more hardline and specific actions against China, including directly naming Beijing in the foreign policy communiqué to be published on the summit's last day on June 13. On the other hand, Germany, Italy, Japan and the European Union, all heavily reliant on Chinese trade, favour a more diplomatic approach, stressing the need to emphasize areas of cooperation, such as in arms control and climate change, between the group and Beijing. France's position is ambiguous as President Emmanuel Macron signalled his support for firm actions against China, yet stated his desire to "avoid confrontation." After the meeting, German chancellor Angela Merkel stressed the importance of not narrowly framing the G7's efforts as "anti-Chinese,"  following discussions on creating a task force or working group on China. Merkel declared, "This is not about being against something, but for something."

The Germans also appear to be the most reluctant in backing Biden's BW3 plan, refusing to pledge a concrete sum. While American officials stressed that the new plan will be presented as a "positive alternative that reflects our values, our standards, and our way of doing business, German officials were more skeptical, stating "it is not as if the G7 states aren't already a very big investor in the world."

These disagreements showcase the balancing act western democracies must face between providing a united front to China and not risking being shut out of China's consumer markets.

While reports are emerging that the G7 has reached a consensus on how to best approach China's export practices and human rights record, it is yet to be seen if the block can remain unanimous in its implementation.

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