G7 Leaders Get Tough on China

Western concerns about China featured heavily in the Group of Seven's agenda over the weekend despite Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine.

The G7's 28-page communiqué, which followed a three-day summit at Schloss Elmau in the Bavarian Alps, mentioned China a record 14 times, compared with just four times last year in what was already considered at the time to be a new preoccupation for the seven major economies.

Tuesday's final statement by leaders from the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Japan, France and Italy placed special emphasis on China's policy practices in the Indo-Pacific, a region where only three of the seven are intimately involved, but where Beijing's growing influence has triggered anxieties about the West's future security and trading relationships in the area.

"We remain seriously concerned about the situation in the East and South China Seas. We strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion that increase tensions," the communique said, referencing China's increasingly assertive stance on maritime and territorial claims in the waters.

Biden Leads G7 Rebuke Of China
President Joe Biden, main image, prepares to meet with other G7 leaders at Elmau Castle, Germany, on June 28, 2022. Inset, President Xi Jinping of China speaks at a press conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on September 4, 2018. China’s Foreign Ministry railed against the G7 on June 29 after its final communiqué mentioned the country 14 times. Clemens Bilan/Lintao Zhang/Pool/Getty Images

In the South China Sea in particular, where China's claims are directly disputed by six other littoral states, the G7 called on Beijing to adhere to the principle of the peaceful settlement of disputes, and cease claims that are inconsistent with the "universal and unified" United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, also known as UNCLOS, under which the Permanent Court of Arbitration rejected its sweeping claims to vast maritime domains in the landmark case Philippines v. China.

"We stress that there is no legal basis for China's expansive maritime claims in the South China Sea. In this regard, we urge China to fully comply with the arbitral award of 12 July 2016 and to respect navigational rights and freedoms enshrined in UNCLOS," the statement said. Beijing has rejected the Hague court's verdict from the beginning.

For the second year in a row, the G7 also called attention to Taiwan, which is facing the increasingly likelihood of a Chinese invasion in the coming years, a conflict observers believe will upend the regional security order and send economic ripples across the globe, in part because of the island's dominance in the critical supply of high-end semiconductors.

"We underscore the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and encourage a peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues," the communique read.

Although the G7 left room for cooperation with China on issues including climate change, the group was unambiguous about the West's differences with Beijing, like its quashing of democratic freedoms in Hong Kong; "non-transparent and market-distorting" economic practices; and its failure to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"As Russia is waging its unjustifiable, unprovoked and illegal war against Ukraine, we call on China to press Russia to immediately comply with the legally binding order of the International Court of Justice of 16 March 2022 and to abide by the relevant resolutions of the UN General Assembly and stop its military aggression—and immediately and unconditionally withdraw its troops from Ukraine," said the communique.

The G7 also raised what it said were grave concerns about human rights in China. "We will continue to promote universal values, including by calling on China to respect universal human rights and fundamental freedoms, including in Tibet and in Xinjiang where forced labour is of major concern to us."

The summit in Germany came amid a heavy focus on Ukraine and the West's commitment to phase out energy dependence on Russia. Like last year, the G7 re-iterated its climate commitments under the Paris Agreement, and pledged joint efforts toward post-pandemic economic recovery.

Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said the G7 had "once again used its summit communique to promote a narrative of 'democracy versus authoritarianism.'"

The group "grossly interfered in China's internal affairs; attacked and smeared China; and incited confrontational sentiments," said Zhao.

"I must emphasize that the G7 only accounts for one-tenth of the world population. They are not qualified to represent the world, let alone regard their own values and standards as internationally accepted values and standards," he said.

The rebuke of China doubtless will continue this week as the G7 leaders join others in Madrid for NATO's annual summit, which runs through Thursday. President Joe Biden is expected to be among those who will rally the alliance for a stronger position on China in its final communique on June 30.

Biden and President Xi Jinping of China are expected to speak in the coming weeks, national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Monday. The two leaders could also meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Indonesia this November.