Background Press Call by a Senior Administration Official After G7 Plenary Session Two
12:47 P.M. BST
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everybody. Thanks so much for joining us for a quick background briefing following G7 Session Two: “Building Back Resilient – Winning the Future.”
Apologies for the delay and appreciate everyone’s flexibility. We’ll do this on background, attributable to “senior administration officials.” Not for reporting or attribution, but with us we have [senior administration official]. And I will pass it over to them to kick us off, and we’ll take some brief questions and answers at the end.
[Senior administration official], go ahead.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. Well, good afternoon. I apologize for being a little bit late. Just to give a little bit of the optics: They — today was the second session of the G7 — the plenary sessions. And this was done in a more secure format. They — it was the first of two of the foreign policy sessions. This was focused on “Winning the Future.” It, kind of — the way the G7 leaders have committed, in February 19th, in the virtual meeting, to do more coordination around China, and then had some discussions in the interim about some ways to do that.
This session focused on some of those opportunities and coordination efforts, and was done in a session where they ended up kind of closing off a lot of the Internet connections. So it’s been a little bit tough for the — to communicate from the — after the session.
But it was about a 90-minute session. The Prime Minister kicked it off. He then passed it to — I think, in the order — sorry, I can’t access my — the full notes right now, but the — it was a mix of — I think first was — I believe it was some combination of Merkel, Macron, and — I’m trying to get this right here — Merkel, Macron, Suga. President Biden spoke for a bit.
There was a little bit of the session back and forth, but, basically, the — kind of the key takeaways and topics were just, kind of, the opportunities and the different perspectives on how to turn, I think, some of the ideas and efforts around both the cooperative elements, the competitive elements, the adversarial elements of the relationship with China, and turn those into something more than just words and, kind of, like-minded efforts around democratic values of the G7 members, but, kind of, a way of translating that into more concrete actions.
There was discussions around the “Build Back Better World” efforts to be able to create and offer some greater opportunity to the developing world around infrastructure. And I think, hopefully, you all have or will receive the — a factsheet that goes into a bit more detail around that.
There was also a little discussion within that of the UK’s efforts around the — something focused a little more intently on climate that, I think, fits within the larger “Build Back Better World” effort. I think we’re going with “B3W” as a shorthand.
There was discussion — I think some good discussion around — from Prime Minister Draghi to Chancellor Merkel, and a little bit from the EU — around, kind of, the cooperative nature of the relationship versus, I think, (inaudible) side of Prime Minister Trudeau, President Biden, and a couple of others — Prime Minister Johnson — wanting to really show, I think, our positions and values through a little bit more action-oriented efforts and coordination.
There was discussion of possibly working towards a — some sort of working group or task force that would draw out some of the coordination efforts in more detail. This is something that the Prime Minister floated to the group and, I think, seemed to have some warm responses to.
And then, I think there was agreement on the larger infrastructure efforts of turning values and efforts into more concreteness in terms of trying to figure out exactly the more nuances and detail of what the “Build Back Better World” — that also encompasses something — the clean green initiative that the Prime Minister has talked about, focusing more on climate, in the near future.
So that’s something, I think, that will probably come off of this with potential for further coordination and action among G7 countries, and possibly through the sherpa channel, but we’ll see exactly how that — how that ends up looking.
I guess any immediate kind of questions around areas that might be helpful to touch on — and I’ll see, also, if I can pull up — we’re still under a bit of a lockdown, in terms of access to a lot of our notes and connections, but I can see if I can fish a couple more things if it’s helpful.
MODERATOR: Thanks. Yeah, we’ll dive right into some brief Q&A. For those of you that are on the Zoom interface, please use the “raise hand” function, and we’ll try to get through a few questions.
First, why don’t we go to Josh Wingrove of Bloomberg.
Q Hi. Thank you so much for doing this. These calls are very helpful. (Loud noises disrupt the call.) Thank you, also, whoever just muted. (Laughs.) Can you — you mentioned that the EU and Draghi and Merkel were talking about the cooperative nature of the relationship. Can you just expand on that? Are you referring to the — to the China-G7 relationship or the relationship within the G7 bloc?
And if you could speak a little bit more about the action-oriented measures that you said Prime Ministers Trudeau, Johnson, and President Biden were favoring. Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. Yeah. No, I think — I mean, I don’t know if you — if you all had a readout yet from last night as well, but I’ll say, as someone who’s worked here at the — at the White House for a — for across (inaudible) the changes across administrations, that just — to say that I think the environment inside the room and being able to see the leaders from the G7 — the warm looks, the embraces, the sense of, I think, real agreement around the values and the purpose of gathering and trying to, kind of, set the tone of rallying the democracies of the world to take concrete actions in a meaningful way, I think, is very much apparent.
In that, I think, context — and I think, last night, you saw a lot of — for the first opening session and the welcome pieces, you kind of saw that — those relationships, I think, in action. And I think President Biden, who knows many of these leaders over the years — and the ones who he’s met, I think, very much looking forward to kind of shaping and being much more aligned from a value perspective.
I think that, first and foremost, was, I think, set as an initial placeholder last night. And then this morning was to go a little bit deeper on some of the, I think, the more challenging elements within the G7 positioning on how hard to push and to call out some of the actions that China is taking.
And I think that that was some of the space where there was some interesting discussions and a little bit of a differentiation of opinion on not whether, kind of, the threat is there, but on how strong, from an action perspective, I think different G7 members are willing to take things.
And I think President Biden really was leading the charge in his remarks this morning. And I would say Prime Minister Johnson was very close behind him — and Prime Minister Trudeau and President Macron. And there is a little differentiation, I think I would say, within — within, I think, the spectrum of how hard they would push on some of these issues, but there was — there was widespread agreement on the ideas of doing something in the infrastructure space that was focused on the positive offer to the developing world.
That could be something that, I think, could provide a more positive offer, but not a — not a choice between the — what I think (inaudible) economies where China is offering to some of those developing countries in more of a values-driven, high-standards, equity lens.
But there is some — I think, as you all probably are very well aware and in depth in, kind of, the different perspectives of just how hard and much of the relationship is willing to focus on the potential competitive and adversarial elements of the relationship and, kind of, call those out, whether it’s forced labor in Xinjiang that the President really, kind of, made a forceful — some forceful comments about kind of putting values and actions by at least be willing — a willingness to kind of call that — call some of those things out publicly, but also, I think, kind of, the understanding that there are different facets and elements of that relationship for other countries in the EU as a whole — and I think just kind of trying to see where the G7, as a whole, is right now and where they could be.
And I think you’re going to see a communiqué that’s going to come out on Sunday. And I think at the President’s press conference, I think, he’ll have a chance to — to really talk about this in a lot more depth.
MODERATOR: Thanks. Next, why don’t we go to Jonathan Lemire with the Associated Press.
Q Hey, there. Thanks for doing the call. I was actually hoping you could elaborate just on that final point about the forced labor in China. Could you talk a little bit more about what the President said and how it was received in the room by others? And is there an agreement that could be mentioned in the communiqué, which I know White House officials had previously said was a hope?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, I think the communiqué is still being negotiated, as I think — as I think these things often are up until the final — the final day, which is tomorrow.
There are certainly discussions around that issue of forced labor. It’s a — I think it’s a representation of democratic values (inaudible) in action that I think the President certainly feels strongly about — a willingness to call out, if possible — there’s consensus from the G7.
So there’s certainly — I think there are a number of areas that you’ll see in the communiqué where some of our — I think the values element of the — of this grouping of democratic, like-minded allies, where we’re trying to show those values in concrete ways and in concrete actions.
And I think — I don’t know if they’ve shared some of the thoughts on some of the deliverables that may emerge from — or at least, kind of, live issues that are being discussed. But, you know, kind of, there are some other efforts around the “Build Back Better World,” and what exactly that looks like.
You heard the announcements around the vaccines, which I think is also kind of a values component of, I think, the G7 really showing a shared commitment on an incredibly important issue, not just the kind of “vaccinate their own — the people in their own countries,” but kind of really make a concrete commitment to be there for the rest of the world and show, I think, what democratic leadership can look like in practice.
The Build Back Better World — which, I think, again, was talked about a little further here — again, offers what I think is a more positive way forward in the development (inaudible) space and something that could be, I think, really meaningful for many countries that won’t have to take on incredible debt or some of the, I think — some of the challenges that has arisen so far and some of the deals that have been put together through the BRI in the past.
There’s the element of forced labor in Xinjiang and just kind of the belief in — I think, in human rights and dignity of people that I think carries over to other areas, such as the global minimum tax and whether something may emerge there that, I think, also is connected to a sense of values and belief in the dignity of workers and avoiding the race to the bottom and some of the some of the issues in that regard as well.
So there’s a whole slew. And then also ransomware. There’s also been some very interesting discussions in, kind of, the recognition that, I think, a lot of these global challenges are things that are across borders, whether it’s the vaccine or ransomware. Issues that, I think, countries — if they’re able to kind of come on the same page and tackle together — are going to be a lot stronger as a bloc. Whether they pay ransoms or not, I think, can have some meaningful input and kind of having a collective stance there.
Anti-corruption is another thing that’s being discussed as a live issue and, kind of, really trying, again, to, kind of, put values in action.
So that’s just kind of a snapshot. And I think the China issue, as a whole — the coordination on China is one of the more complicated and thorny ones, where there is a greater spectrum of — you know, there’s agreement across the board that there needs to be greater coordination and action taken and a willingness to call out some of the challenges that exist.
But I think there is that spectrum of how far different countries are willing to go, and I think that was certainly a little bit evident. But, I think, also, with, kind of — taking a step back, with a sense that these leaders really seem to like each other and to respect one another and to, kind of, want to work through and find, kind of, where that sweet spot might be.
And I think our hunch is that the leaders communiqué, as a whole — and that that will come out tomorrow — will have some meaningful points in that regard. And I think that it should be an exciting, exciting press conference that will follow tomorrow’s (inaudible) as well.
And there’s a foreign policy session that comes next. I think it’s starting very quick — very shortly. And that’s going to cover, I think, a lot of the more live foreign policy issues outside of the — of the past discussion and, I think, touch on the spectrum of challenges from Russia and the Russian —
(The call is interrupted by an audio drop.)
(The call resumes.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: …the President’s Climate Summit in Washington, just the road to COP 26 in upping the ambition in the road ahead with potential new commitments and some areas of extra focus and attention that the G7 has been discussing (inaudible) as well and some discussions over potential outputs that could emerge in the Leaders’ Communiqué.
And (inaudible) closing press conference that would then follow where, I think, it will be a chance to reflect on the six plenary discussions and sessions, and then also to talk a bit about some of the outputs and potential deliverables that have hopefully reached consensus through the communiqué and the negotiations that have been happening around the periphery of the — of the Leaders’ Summit and the plenary sessions themselves.
MODERATOR: Thanks so much. I know [senior administration official] is between sessions, so we’ll try to continue to get through as many questions as we can.
Next, let’s go to Yamiche Alcindor with PBS.
Q Hi. Thanks so much for taking my question. I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit more about what exactly President Biden wants to see when it comes to actions on China and what the most contentious disagreements are on what actually should happen. What does he want to see? And what maybe are other countries saying they want to see that’s different? If you could give more details on that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. No, it’s a good question. I mean, I think the — again, I think the two, kind of, top-of-mind, hot-button issues that was discussed this morning, at least, in some depth was the issue around forced labor and, kind of, that being just, I think, one example, I think, of a larger willingness to call out some of the human rights practices, some of the — a kind of an unwillingness to play by the same set of rules as the rest of the international community.
And I think, kind of, that being — the February 19th Leaders — there was a statement that was released at — in the virtual meeting. And it was the first time, I think, that China was, kind of, called out as — for a willingness for the G7, as whole, to do more coordination around issues that are emanating from that — the way they are engaging in the international system.
So, I think that the labor — forced labor being one issue. The Build Back Better World — I think it’s a really ambitious initiative and idea that had stemmed from a conversation with Prime Minister Johnson and President Biden, where, I think, they both, you know, had kind of talked about that Build Back Better framing and slogan, and had wanted to kind of do something that was ambitious in practice and, kind of, in alignment on recognizing a lot of partners in the developing world, kind of, being taken advantage of in some ways, through investments that they received with the Belt and Road and other financing deals. And I think offering — trying to figure out there was a more values-driven — just something else that could be offered.
Not that, I think, it — the hope is that, you know, potentially if China ultimately would sign up or kind of want to be part of the Build Back Better World, I don’t think that that is something that would be off the table, as long as they’re willing to up their standards and to kind of take on some of the infrastructure space and the more values — higher-standard way.
There was also discussions on — a little bit of discussion around some of the international institutions and just the way China, I think, is engaging itself at the WTO, for example, or within other IOs. And just how, as a — you know, a bloc of leading democracies, how they — and how forcefully they need to call out some of the — some of the efforts that are causing some real harm for both relationships bilaterally with the G7, I think, as a grouping, and then, just as importantly, for other countries around the globe who, I think, are being strong-armed in some way on some of the policies that are being put into practice.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you.
Next, let’s go to Franco Ordoñez with NPR.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And I think I’m going to have to run in soon because I think they’re — they’re going to start the next session, I believe —
MODERATOR: So, this will be last question.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay.
Q Hey, thanks so much for doing this. I’ll try to be — I’ll try to be quick with the question. You know, this — President Biden is, you know, not the first to try to do — you know, meet this need and offer an alternative to Belt and Road. And less-developed countries have also said they would rather work with the United States and the West; they have, you know, many common, shared goals.
But they’ve also, you know, struggled and have a lot of needs — and very short-term needs — to have jobs, build infrastructure projects.
I was hoping you could share a little bit more concrete about what you think the Allies can do. I mean, how big do you think this fund could be? Because, so far, China has been able to do this in ways that the United States could not. I mean, what — I mean, how — how big do you think this fund could be — need to be to make this actually work so that the United States and the Allies could actually compete in a concrete way?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. No, that’s a great — that’s a good question. I think that, kind of, the way folks are viewing this is that they want to be able to provide, you know, some sort of a credible offer to the developing world, not necessarily, again, in contrast to — in direct contrast (inaudible) forcing countries to make a choice between, I think, what a “Build Back Their World” infrastructure or opportunity might look like — or offer might look like, or something else.
I think it’s more, kind of, a recognition that there remains a huge infrastructure gap globally — just as there does, I think, in the United States, as well. And, kind of, an opportunity to do something meaningful in a way that is different than, kind of, the current options — or leading option, I think, that many countries are resorting to.
So I think that — certainly a credible number that at least shows that there could be some — some real, meaningful efforts that could be funded in that regard — in, kind of, doing the funding in a — in a more value-driven; hopefully more of, kind of, an equity- versus debt-financed type way.
But, again, a lot of the concrete details are still being — would be worked through. It would be, I think, more of a decentralized structure of sorts. It would kind of tap into some of the development finance institutions among G7 members and some of the efforts that currently are happening and — with different priorities of different sectors.
Certainly, from the U.S. perspective, there’s a heavy emphasis on climate — the climate infrastructure space, the health infrastructure space, the digital technology infrastructure space, and the gender equality/gender equity infrastructure space as well — and, kind of, finding ways to, I think, help partners around the globe invest in some of those areas and do it in a credible, high-standard, values-driven way.
MODERATOR: Thanks so much. And thanks so much, everybody, for joining us today. We’ll do another couple of these today, and so just keep an eye out on your emails for registration and Zoom links, and appreciate everyone’s flexibility on time.
Have a good day.
1:13 P.M. BST