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Biden and G-7 partners launch infrastructure initiative for developing countries

Biden urges unity among G7 leaders
Biden urges unity among G7 leaders 03:07

In his meetings with G-7 leaders this weekend, President Biden has implicitly distinguished himself from his predecessor, who largely rejected multilateralism in favor of a go-it-alone foreign policy. Mr. Biden has focused on strengthening global ties, and urged fellow democratic leaders to do more to compete with China as a unified front.

Mr. Biden has also sought to restore the United States' reputation as a global leader, renouncing President Trump's strategy of "America First." Ahead of a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday, the second day of the G-7 summit, a reporter asked Mr. Biden if he had convinced the country's allies that America was back.

"Ask him," Mr. Biden said, referring to Macron. When the same question was posed to Macron, the French president said, "Definitely."

Mr. Biden met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel later that day, and said that Merkel would visit the White House next month.

Also on Saturday, the White House announced a "Build Back Better World" initiative to "help meet the tremendous infrastructure need in low- and middle-income countries," according to a fact sheet. The name is a play on Mr. Biden's frequently used slogan to promote improving infrastructure at home.

The initiative was announced after a meeting between G-7 leaders on Saturday morning, during which they discussed how to counter China's growing global influence, according to a senior administration official. The official said the initiative stemmed from a conversation between Mr. Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson where they'd both talked about the "Build Back Better" framing and slogan.

Although there was "widespread agreement" among the leaders about finding a way to turn democratic values into more concrete efforts in the infrastructure space, there was a "spectrum" of views on how hard to push China and call them out for some of the actions they are taking, the senior administration official said. While European Union leaders such as Merkel support taking a more diplomatic approach to China, Mr. Biden, Johnson and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau advocated for using "more action-oriented efforts and coordination" to call out China on human rights issues.

China has recently stepped up its efforts to offer aid to developing countries through its Belt and Road initiative. The senior administration official said that developing countries have been taken advantage of by China, and that the G-7 leaders want to offer an alternative that is "not necessarily a direct contrast" to that, but another choice. They are open to having China join the Build Back Better initiative if they raise their standards on human rights.

In a statement released later on Saturday, a senior administration official clarified that the summit "is about a positive agenda, not confronting China."

"But in the leaders discussions, what we have seen is a growing convergence around the importance of responding to China's non-market economic practices, the need to speak out against human rights abuses, including in Xinjiang, responding to forced labor practices in supply chains from Xinjiang, pursuing an affirmative infrastructure initiative that is high standard and transparent, and coordinating on supply chain resilience and technology standards so that democracies are aligned and supporting each other. And given some members didn't even want to mention China just three years ago, this is a huge shift in a short period of time," the official said.

According to the White House fact sheet on the Built Back Better World initiative, the G-7 will "coordinate in mobilizing private-sector capital" with regard to climate, health and health security, digital technology, and gender equity and equality. It will be "global in scope," with different countries focusing on different regions.

"In addition to the billions of dollars which the United States mobilizes in overseas infrastructure financing through existing bilateral and multilateral tools, we will work with Congress to augment our development finance toolkit with the hope that, together with the private sector, other U.S. stakeholders, and G7 partners, B3W will collectively catalyze hundreds of billions of dollars of infrastructure investment for low- and middle-income countries in the coming years," the fact sheet said.

The announcement of the global initiative comes as Mr. Biden is struggling at home to pass a domestic infrastructure initiative. The president has proposed the $1.7 trillion American Jobs Plan, but Republicans have balked at the price tag and at Mr. Biden's proposal to raise the corporate tax rate to pay for it. A group of bipartisan senators reached a deal on Thursday on a proposal that includes $579 billion in new spending over five years. However, it's unclear whether the proposal will get universal support among congressional Democrats, who argue it doesn't go far enough.

The White House also announced on Friday that the G-7 and guest countries will provide more than 1 billion additional COVID-19 vaccine doses for the world, 500 million of which will come from the United States.

Mr. Biden is also expected to sign onto a communique by G-7 leaders at the end of the summit, which is still being negotiated, but will likely be released on Sunday. In 2018 when the G-7 leaders gathered, Mr. Trump did not sign onto the communique, and attacked Trudeau as "weak." 

The president is remaining in Europe through next week, and has a highly anticipated meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva on Wednesday.

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