G-7 calls out China over rights at virus-shadowed meeting

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Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives at the G7 foreign ministers' meeting in London, Wednesday, May 5, 2021. Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven wealthy industrialized nations gather in London to grapple with threats to health, prosperity and democracy. It is their first face-to-face meeting in more than two years. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, pool)

LONDON – Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven wealthy industrialized nations on Wednesday accused China of human rights abuses and economic mischief, but offered little concrete action to deal with an increasingly forceful Beijing.

The top G-7 diplomats meeting in London said they were “deeply concerned” by China's treatment of the Uyghur Muslim population and other minorities, which includes mass internment in “re-education” camps, forced labor and forced sterilization.

But the U.K., the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan committed only to tackling forced labor "through our own available domestic means,” which could range from public awareness campaigns to laws for businesses, rather than through collective action.

While the Biden administration in the U.S. is keen for a strong stand against China’s rising economic and political assertiveness, some European G-7 members are more cautious, and the G-7 joint statement stressed the need for a working relationship with Beijing.

The G-7 ministers criticized China for “arbitrary, coercive economic policies and practices” and urged it to stick to international trade rules and “respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

At their first face-to-face meeting for two years, the top diplomats sought unity to deal with increasing challenges from China and Russia, smoldering conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Ethiopia and the heavy toll the pandemic is taking on the world’s poorest countries.

The G-7 ministers called for “co-ordinated action and global solidarity” to help the world recover from the pandemic, and backed “affordable and equitable global access” to coronavirus vaccines and treatments. But wealthy countries have been reluctant so far to give up precious vaccine stocks until they have inoculated their own populations.

The group also condemned Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s eastern border and in Crimea and its “malign activities aimed at undermining other countries’ democratic systems.”