G7 calls for new study into origins of Covid and voices concern on China

World leaders attending the Group of Seven summit issued a call for a new study into the origins of Covid-19, including in China, after an initial report was deemed lacking because Beijing had refused to cooperate.

They also agreed to speak out against human rights abuses in China, a matter that had been hotly debated behind closed doors over the course of the three-day summit.

The leaders also singled out Russia as harboring networks that have conducted ransomware attacks wreaking havoc on critical systems, saying countries must do more to address criminal activity within their borders.

American officials characterized the China language in particular as a coup for President Joe Biden, who entered the summit hoping to convince fellow leaders to take a tougher line. He has made the competition between democracies and autocracies a central theme of his first foreign trip, and wants leaders of other democratic countries to more vocally speak out against authoritarian regimes.

He met resistance from some European leaders, who do not share his view of China as an existential threat. It was unclear leading up to the final session whether language specifically calling out forced labor practices or human rights abuses would be included in the final statement.

Ultimately, the final communiqué that was released on Sunday expressed “concern” about state-sponsored forced labor, particularly in agricultural, solar and garment sectors. It said China must respect human rights in Xinjiang, allow a high degree of autonomy in Hong Kong and work to avoid a security deterioration in the South China Sea.

It also called on leaders to consult one another to find ways to counter abusive economic practices.

“This has been an unusually substantive and productive G7,” a White House official said.

The summit’s concluding statement came after an intense debate on the language that had stretched overnight. US administration officials had said on Saturday that while Biden and other leaders got along well, the China issue posed an area of disagreement.

In particular, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and leaders from the European Union had appeared reluctant to include lines in the final document that might be viewed as a provocation to China, according to senior administration officials.

Biden was backed in his views by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and, to a degree, by French President Emmanuel Macron, who has adopted a harder line on China as he faces reelection next year.

This is a breaking story and will be updated.

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