June 11, 2021
7:13 P.M. BST
MODERATOR: Good evening, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us for this background briefing, and apologies for running a few minutes behind.
In today’s background briefing, we’re going to preview tomorrow’s G7 working session on China. This call will be on background, attributable to “senior administration officials,” and under embargo until Saturday, June 12th, 7:00 a.m. British Summer Time. We, of course, will have some time for Q&A at the end.
Not for reporting or attribution, but just for your knowledge, on today’s call we have joining us [senior administration officials].
With that, I’ll pass it off to [senior administration official] to kick us off.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks very much. So, first, I’ll do a quick roundup of today. Today was the first G7 working session on the global economy, where President Biden and G7 leaders discussed ways to forge a more fair, sustainable, inclusive global economy.
We also announced that President Biden will welcome German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the White House on July 15th — a visit that will affirm the deep bilateral ties between the U.S. and Germany.
And following on the President’s speech last night, the G7 and guest countries agreed to provide more than 1 billion additional COVID-19 vaccines for the world, starting, effectively, now.
Looking ahead to tomorrow, I wanted to give some context and subtext. We are obviously not looking to make China the overriding issue while we’re in Europe. It isn’t the focus or the headline of many of the deliverables my colleague will go through in a minute.
But many of them also happen to be in service of positioning the United States and our partners to better compete with China, just as is the case with some of our most important domestic steps, like those concerning getting our economy back in line and getting our arms around the pandemic — steps that have allowed the United States to reengage with the world from a position of strength.
This is not about making countries choose between us and China; this is about offering an affirmative, alternative vision and approach that they would want to choose. So, what we are promoting is a confident, positive agenda focused around rallying other countries that share our values on the issues that matter most.
What does that mean? On vaccines: As we’ve said, we and our G7 partners are providing more than a billion additional COVID-19 vaccine doses for the world, of which the U.S. will contribute half a billion doses to the developing world. For us, this is about saving lives and ending the pandemic. This is not about coercion or transactional political or economic favors.
On infrastructure, we’ll be announcing a bold, new global infrastructure initiative with our G7 partners that will be values-driven, transparent, and sustainable. There is, by some estimates, a $40 trillion infrastructure gap in parts of the world that this would be intended to help other countries fill. My colleague will be saying more about this in a moment, but we believe that it stands in stark contrast to the way that some other countries have handled efforts around infrastructure.
At NATO, which will be next on the President’s agenda after the G7 wraps up — this will be the first time that the NATO countries will be addressing the security challenge from China directly in a communiqué.
At the EU Summit, which will also take place in Brussels, we will be addressing the trade and technology and other challenges in the U.S.-EU relationship and also the opportunities those issues present so that we can focus on writing the rules of the road on these issues together as democracies, and not leave that work to the autocracies of the world.
So we are doing the careful hard work of diplomacy, of rallying our friends and allies. We’re not looking to simply score a bunch of rhetorical points on China. And this is how we believe our endeavors will be most successful.
And the contrast between approach and China’s, on these and other issues, is really — should speak for itself. As the President likes to say, “It’s never a good bet to bet against America,” and I think that we are proving that point already in the context of G7 and the other meetings I described.
So with that, I will turn it over to my colleague to talk about tomorrow’s G7 session.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks. Can everybody hear me? Just to do a soundcheck.
MODERATOR: Yes, go ahead.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, great. So as [senior administration official] mentioned, tomorrow’s morning session at the G7 will be on China. I want to give you a heads up on two specific areas of focus: one, a new G7 infrastructure partnership called “Build Back Better for the World”; and, second, to give you an update on what we’re saying and what we’re doing about forced labor.
So, first, on the infrastructure initiative, the United States and many of our partners and friends around the world have long been skeptical about China’s Belt and Road Initiative. We’ve seen the Chinese government demonstrate a lack of transparency, poor environmental and labor standards, and a course of approach that’s left many countries worse off.
But until now, we haven’t offered a positive alternative that reflects our values, our standards, and our way of doing business. So, tomorrow, we’ll be announcing “Build Back Better for the World,” an ambitious, new global infrastructure initiative with our G7 partners that won’t just be an alternative to the BRI, but we believe will beat the BRI by offering a higher-quality choice. And we’ll offer that choice of self-confidence about our model that reflects our shared values.
So, as we come together on this partnership, our G7 partners have agreed that our real purpose here is to demonstrate that democracies and open societies can come together and deliver a positive choice to meet some of the biggest challenges of our time, not just for our people, but for people all over the world.
And let’s be clear, as [senior administration official] alluded to: The needs in the developing world for high-quality infrastructure — whether it’s physical infrastructure, digital infrastructure, health infrastructure, or a way to deal with gender disparities — are large and growing, and made especially worse after the pandemic.
The World Bank estimates there’s a cumulative $40 trillion of infrastructure needs in the developing world through 2035. And “Build Back Better for the World,” or B3W, is an affirmative way to meet that need while meeting the highest labor and environmental standards, providing transparency, and mobilizing the private sector to invest with us.
I’ll be happy to say more if you have questions. But let me turn now to forced labor. And so, President Biden in tomorrow’s session will also be pressing his fellow leaders for concrete action on forced labor to make clear to the world that we believe these practices are an affront to human dignity and an egregious example of China’s unfair economic competition.
I’m not going to get ahead of the discussions tomorrow, but I can share a little bit more about the U.S. perspective and how we view the issue.
So, when we think of forced labor — and, look, we — it’s an expression of our shared values to make clear what we won’t tolerate as the United States and as a G7. So we think it’s critical to call out the use of forced labor in Xinjiang and to take concrete actions to ensure that global supply chains are free from the use of forced labor.
And the point is to send a wakeup call that the G7 is serious about defending human rights and that we need to work together to eradicate forced labor from our products.
Let me pause there.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you so much. So now we’ve got some time for some Q&A, so if you have a question, please use the “raise hand” function on the Zoom interface, and we’ll try to get through as many questions as we can. So, again, please use the “raise hand” function on the Zoom interface, and we’ll call on as much as we have time for.
Let’s first go to Anne Gearan of The Washington Post.
Q So, could you talk a little bit more about the China piece of this and describe for us what the other G7 countries, to the best of your knowledge, are willing to do in terms of taking on China more frontally? Obviously, a lot of these other countries have different trading relationships and, in some cases, far deeper trading relationships than even the United States. What are they willing to do, and how confident can you be that, in this context, they’re going to be with you in confronting China?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, Anne. So, I mean, I guess, as I said, this is not just about confronting or taking on China. This is about providing an affirmative, positive, alternative vision for the world than that that is presented by China and, in some similar ways but also in some different ways, Russia.
You know, the President talks often about this contest of democracies and autocracies. And for him, that is not an abstract question of political science or even purely a moral or values-based question — although I think he does have strong feelings about the values element of democracy. It is actually, first and foremost, about whether the democratic system can continue to deliver for its own people, for the people of our partner democracies, and for the citizens of the world.
And so what this G7 meeting is, first and foremost, about is proving that point: that democracies — the leading democracies — when they come together, can deliver. I think we’re seeing that in the context of the vaccines announcement. We’re going to see that in the context of the infrastructure announcement that we’ve described, and some of the other steps they’re going to be taking during the course of this week.
But, in many ways, that’s going to be the most important work. It’s not a confrontation, but basically a presentation of a model that we believe, to this day, remains more appealing. There are other contexts in which, you know, we will talk about taking China on more directly, but this meeting is really focused on an affirmative vision.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Next, we’ll go to Andrea Mitchell with MSNBC.
Q Thank you all so much. Regarding Vladimir Putin, as you head into Geneva — NATO first, of course; the G7; and then to Geneva — has his crackdown on Navalny’s operation, calling them “extremists,” indicated to you that having a stable and predictable relationship with Vladimir Putin, as the President had said (inaudible) he wants to, is going to be very difficult to achieve? And does that change your posture going into this summit? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, Andrea. You know, we’re under no illusions that this is going to be an easy relationship; it is going to be an extremely challenging relationship. And I think we’ve been quite clear about that.
And the President has been very clear in two phone calls now with President Putin that, perhaps unlike some of his predecessors, he is not going to simply elide or gloss over the differences that we have; he’s going to take them on with candor and directly. And that where Russia crosses lines that we consider to be unacceptable, we will impose costs on Russia for doing that.
You know, he has said that directly to the Russian president, and then he has lived by that in some of the steps that we’ve rolled out, including with regard to the poisoning of Aleksey Navalny.
So, I think that — without getting ahead of the conversation that has yet to take place between the two leaders — I think the conversation that — that the meeting in Geneva will be held in a very similar vein to what I’ve just described.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Next, we’ll go to Steve Holland with Reuters.
Q This is actually Andrew Restuccia with the Wall Street Journal. We’re all sitting together by the pool listening to the call on speaker. But, I just wanted to ask if you would — if you expect, in the G7 communiqué, to name China specifically, or if it will be sort of a more subtle reference to China?
And then, separately, how much do you expect the G7 to put toward this global infrastructure proposal? Is there an overall number? And how far will it go to closing this $40 trillion infrastructure gap? Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, do you want the first, and I can take the second?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think you probably should take both, given that you’re —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: — directly involved in this.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, so, you know, we’re in the middle of these negotiations. The communiqué doesn’t actually get finalized until Sunday.
But suffice it to say that China has been an animating topic throughout these discussions, and, you know — and it’s very much — as [senior administration official] described, the conversation is very much about this contest that President Biden speaks of between those who think that autocracy is the best path forward and those, like us, who understand that democracies and our shared values provide the best path for delivering for our people and also meeting the biggest challenges in the world.
So, the communiqué reflects those conversations as it’s taking shape. And, look, we’re pushing for being specific on areas like Xinjiang, where forced labor is taking place and where we have to express our values as a G7.
It’s too early to say what will end up in the final. But certainly that’s our position, and that’s what we’ve been advocating for.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On the second question, in terms of the size — the potential size of this infrastructure initiative: Let me just say that, in addition to the billions of dollars which the U.S. already mobilizes in overseas infrastructure financing through our bilateral tools and also our multilateral institutions, our plan is to work with Congress to augment our development finance toolkit with the hope that — together with G7 partners, the private sector, and other stakeholders — we’ll soon be collectively catalyzing hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure investment for low- and middle-income countries that need it.
So, that’s a credible scale. There’s no real way to estimate how large some of the other large — some of the other major infrastructure programs are in the world, including the BRI, that don’t have the same degree of transparency. But we’re aiming for an ambitious and credible scale.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Next, we’ll go to David Sanger with the New York Times.
Q Thank you for doing this. Two questions related to the next couple of days. All of you and President Biden have made it pretty clear that you want to put together some rules of the road, or guardrails, on cyber, similar to what some of the summits have done in the past in other areas — terrorism, nuclear, and so forth. Can you tell us how that’s going to play out at G7 and NATO? And then, if there are any specific proposals for Mr. Putin?
And we hear there have been some developments in the effort about whether or not the President and Mr. Putin will be speaking publicly together in any form in Geneva, if you could give us an update on that.
MODERATOR: Did we lose you, [senior administration official]?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sorry. Sorry. I muted myself. I’m sorry about that. So, David, on cyber, I think you’re going to see that this is featured prominently in every single one of the key meetings on this overseas trip. It’s going to be featured prominently in the G7 conversations. We can say more about that if you want. I think in the EU Summit and at the NATO Summit, you’re going to see a discussion around the recent spate of ransomware attacks and the threats to critical infrastructure.
And certainly, in the conversation with President Putin, you can expect — as it has been raised in the past in the conversations between the two leaders — for the President to raise it very directly and make clear our expectations of the government of Russia to address the threat that is emanating from its territory.
Whether these ransomware attackers are state actors or not, they are present on Russian soil, in many cases, and we believe it’s the responsibility of the Russian government to address that, as it would be for any state that has criminals acting inside its territory.
And so that will be made very clear to President Putin. I don’t want to get ahead of outcomes or the conversation in any more detail than that.
You asked also about the public dimension of that meeting, and I don’t think we’ve got more to say about that at this point, but I know that there’s a lot of interest in it, and I expect we’ll have more to say about that soon.
MODERATOR: Thanks so much.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And just a —
MODERATOR: Go ahead.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Just to pick up on [senior administration official]’s comment about ransomware and the discussion about cyber within the G7 context: And I would just say — I mean, there’s uniform recognition that ransomware and the abuse of virtual currencies is an urgent threat, it’s an escalating threat. And there’s been a productive discussion, I would say, in terms of how we can share information to support prosecutions, how we can hold criminal networks to account, and also how we can modernize our cyber defenses.
MODERATOR: Thanks so much. I think we, unfortunately, have time for one last question, so let’s go to Betsy Klein with CNN.
Q Hi, this is Kaitlan Collins. Just to follow up on David’s question: When Biden’s predecessor met with Putin, no staff was in the room, with the exception of interpreters. So, can you confirm who from the U.S. side will be in the room when they meet next week?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, I think the answer to that is: We can’t yet. You know, I suspect that the meeting will take place with some multiple formats — maybe some small or maybe some larger — but we do not have the information to confirm yet exactly who is going to be in the meeting. But we know, as I said, that there’s a lot of interest in that question, and I expect we’ll have more to say about it soon.
Q Can you at least confirm that there will be staff in the room beyond just translators?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I mean, again, I’m not going to confirm any of the format information. I think, well before the summit, you will hear more from us on this.
MODERATOR: Alrighty. Thanks so much, everyone, for joining us this evening. Again, this call is on background attributable to “senior administration officials,” embargoed until 7:00 a.m. British Summer Time, tomorrow, June 12th. We’ll talk to you all again very soon.
7:33 P.M. BST