Americas

Biden to debut at G7 with vaccines, economy and China in focus

LONDON (REUTERS) – Mr Joe Biden will attend his first meeting as US president with Group of Seven leaders on Friday (Feb 19) to discuss plans to defeat the novel coronavirus, reopen the battered world economy and counter the challenge posed by China.

The Covid-19 pandemic has killed 2.4 million people, tipped the global economy into its worst peacetime slump since the Great Depression and upended normal life for billions just as the West grapples with the rise of China.

Mr Biden “will focus on the global response to the pandemic, including vaccine production, distribution of supplies” and efforts to fight emerging infections, White House spokesman Jen Psaki said on Thursday.

He “will also discuss the global economic recovery, including the importance of all industrial countries maintaining economic support for the recovery” and “the importance of updating global roles to tackle economic challenges such as those posed by China,” she said.

The call with G7 leaders is a chance for Mr Biden, a Democrat who took over from Republican former President Donald Trump on Jan 20, to project a message of re-engagement with the world and with global institutions after four years of his predecessor’s “America First” policies.

Besides Mr Biden, Italy’s new prime minister, Mario Draghi, will be a new face at the leaders’ virtual table, though he is famous for “doing whatever it takes” at the European Central Bank to save the euro during the European debt crisis.

Britain, which holds the rotating chair of the G7 and is trying to recast itself as a steward of the rules-based international system following Brexit, will ask members to help speed up the development of future vaccines to 100 days.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is keen to build ties with Mr Biden who did not support Brexit and who, as a presidential candidate, last year publicly warned Britain against endangering peace in Ireland.

Mr Johnson has said he is interested in the idea of a global treaty on pandemics to ensure proper transparency after the novel coronavirus outbreak which originated in China.

China will also be on the agenda.

In his first major foreign policy speech as president, Mr Biden cast China as the “most serious competitor” of the United States.

“We’ll confront China’s economic abuses; counter its aggressive, coercive action; to push back on China’s attack on human rights, intellectual property, and global governance,”Biden said on Feb 4.

The G7 of the United States, Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, France, Italy and Canada has a combined gross domestic product of about US$40 trillion (S$53.05 trillion) – a little less than half of the global economy.

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