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Extinction Rebellion environmental activists and supporters protest in the streets of Falmouth, England, during the G7 leaders summit on June 12, 2021.

OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images

The G7 is getting set to announce a massive global infrastructure-building plan in a belated attempt to counter the gains China has made in the developing world through its own Belt and Road Initiative.

A senior White House official told reporters that the G7 plan will be named the “Build Back Better For The World” initiative, and would seek to close what the official said was “US$40-trillion infrastructure gap” on the planet.

The official – a senior member of U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration, granted anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly – made it clear that the plan was a response to the BRI, which Chinese President Xi Jinping announced shortly after first coming to power in 2013. China has been accused of funding projects without labour or environmental guidelines, and of using BRI loans to trap poor countries into debts they can’t possibly repay.

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More than 100 countries have signed deals that see them co-operate with China to build railroads, seaports, highways and other infrastructure. By one estimate, China has invested in some 2,600 projects worldwide, worth a combined US$3.7-trillion.

“The United States and many of our partners and friends around the world have long been skeptical about China’s Belt and Road Initiative,” the White House official said. “We’ve seen the Chinese government demonstrate a lack of transparency, poor environmental and labour standards, and a course of approach that’s left many countries worse off. But until now, we haven’t offered a positive alternative that reflects our values, our standards, and our way of doing business.”

The official said the US$40-trillion figure reflected the amount of infrastructure investment that was required worldwide by 2035. The actual scope of Build Back Better For The World plan wouldn’t be announced until a joint communiqué is released on Sunday, at the end of the G7 summit in the English resort town of Carbis Bay.

The Biden Administration is also reportedly pushing for tough wording in the final communiqué regarding China’s use of forced labour, particularly in the country’s predominantly Muslim region of Xinjiang.

“We think it’s critical to call out the use of forced labour in Xinjiang and to take concrete actions to ensure that global supply chains are free from the use of forced labour,” the White House official said in a call with reporters. “The point is to send a wake-up call that the G7 is serious about defending human rights and that we need to work together to eradicate forced labour from our product.”

Foreign policy – and how democracies should deal with the challenges posed by China and Russia – is at the centre of Saturday’s G7 meetings. Mr. Biden also had a brief one-on-one meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the sidelines of the summit.

The two men reportedly discussed China and the ongoing detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who have been held in Chinese prisons for 915 days on charges widely viewed as fabricated. On Thursday, Canada’s High Commissioner to Britain, Ralph Goodale, told The Globe and Mail that he expected the G7 would make a statement on the ongoing detention of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor.

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The question of how to deal with China has emerged as a central theme at the G7 meeting, with the Biden Administration pushing for the group to take a tougher line on Beijing, but France, Germany and Italy wary of appearing too confrontational. Later Saturday, reports said that the G7 leaders had reached consensus on the issue.

The summit’s main outcome – a promise to donate one billion surplus COVID-19 vaccines – is also a response to China’s ongoing use of “vaccine diplomacy” to expand its clout in the developing world.

At one point there was talk of expanding the grouping in Carbis Bay to a “D10” group of democracies by adding three of China’s democratic neighbours – India, Australia and South Korea – to the summit. However, the idea was put on hold, at least for this year, over European concerns about forming what could look like an anti-Chinese alliance.

Instead India, Australia and South Korea attended the second half of the G7 as observers, along with South Africa.

In a statement posted to its website, the Chinese Embassy in London slammed the G7 as a “small group of countries” trying to impose its will on the rest of the planet. “The days when global decisions were dictated by a small group of countries are long gone,” the statement reads in part. “There is only one set of rules for the world, that is, the basic norms of international relations based on the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, not the so-called rules formulated by a small number of countries.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other world leaders come together for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began on a beach in southwest England. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson greeted Trudeau before the leaders gathered with others, including U.S. President Joe Biden, for a photograph. The Canadian Press

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