G-7 leaders buy into Biden’s ‘build back better’ pitch

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson touts success in securing commitments for COVID-19 vaccines for the world

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, and President Joe Biden attended a working session at the G7 summit in Cornwall, U.K., on Saturday. (Leon Neal/AFP via Getty Images)
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, and President Joe Biden attended a working session at the G7 summit in Cornwall, U.K., on Saturday. (Leon Neal/AFP via Getty Images)
Posted June 13, 2021 at 11:27am

Joe Biden embarked on his first overseas trip as president of the United States last week seeking to deliver a message that America was back as a cooperative player on the world stage after four years of President Donald Trump’s more insular approach.

“I know this is going to sound somewhat prosaic, but I think we’re in a contest, not with China per se, but in a contest with autocrats, autocratic governments around the world, as to whether democracies can compete with them in a rapidly changing 21st century,” Biden said Sunday at the summit’s wrap-up press conference. “I think how we act, and whether we pull together as democracies, is going to determine whether our grandkids look back at 15 years from now and say, ‘Did they step up? Are democracies as relevant and powerful as they had been?’”

A White House official pointed out that in a G-7 communique three years ago, China did not receive a mention. Countering that country’s government and its abuses of human rights in Xinjiang and Hong Kong was a significant component of the 2021 version of the document.

The president stressed that fellow leaders of the G-7 major industrial democracies agreed with him about the relevancy of democracy.

Biden got a ringing endorsement from French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday. When a reporter asked Biden about whether he had convinced allies from the G-7 major democracies meeting at Carbis Bay in Cornwall, England, that America’s back, he replied, “Ask him,” referring to Macron.

“Yeah. Definitely,” responded the French president.

Beyond being the first leg of the new U.S. president’s European tour, the trip includes travel to Brussels for both a NATO Summit and a U.S.-EU summit before going on to Geneva for a Wednesday bilateral summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic dominated the headlines from the summit, including a commitment from the G-7 to contribute the equivalent of more than 1 billion doses of vaccines for the developing world, announced Sunday by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose government hosted this year’s G-7.

Johnson called the commitments “another big step towards vaccinating the world.”

Biden’s campaign slogan — “Build Back Better” — has been favorite of Johnson, and at his concluding press conference Sunday, the prime minister spoke to what it means to look to build back better in a global context.

“That means preventing a pandemic like this from ever happening again, partly … by establishing a global pandemic radar which will spot new diseases before they get a chance to spread,” Johnson said. “That means ensuring that our future prosperity benefits all the citizens of our countries and even all the citizens of the world.”

A new initiative championed in particular by Biden will be G-7’s newest attempt to respond to the “Belt and Road” initiative that China has used to build foreign influence through infrastructure investment.

“We will develop a new partnership to build back better for the world, through a step change in our approach to investment for infrastructure, including through an initiative for clean and green growth,” the leaders said in the formal communique issued after the summit. “We are resolved to deepen our current partnership to a new deal with Africa, including by magnifying support from the International Monetary Fund for countries most in need to support our aim to reach a total global ambition of $100 billion.”

“We’re going to make sure that we’re able to pull together the ability to use the development financing institutions and other development tools to expect a bold new infrastructure investment in low and middle-income countries over the coming years,” Biden said. “Much of it coming from the private sector, which will generate — the capital put in will generate significantly more capital for the private sector.”

The president said the development financing operations of the G-7 agreed to stop the funding of “unabated coal projects around the world.” He said he heard from others at the summit that it was good to see a U.S. president recognizing the threat posed by global warming, referring to a very different view taken by Trump.

“It is the existential problem facing humanity,” Biden said.

The 2021 G-7 communique also highlights other areas of agreement among the major democracies, which multiple leaders stressed was a productive long weekend of face-to-face meetings.

The document includes a recognition of threats posed by ransomware and other cybersecurity challenges, broader commitments on health and environmental policy, as well as previously announced commitments on global taxation.