LONDON, DPA – Foreign ministers from G7 countries have discussed how to deal with the obstinacy of China and Russia when it comes to human rights and climate change on the first full day of a meeting in London.
Representatives from the US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan were welcomed by UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, wearing a mask, with forearm bumps.
It is the first face-to-face G7 meeting in two years because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We believe in keeping trade open, we believe in standing up for open societies, for human rights and democracy,” Raab told reporters.
He is hosting the talks, which will continue on Wednesday with the European Union, India, Australia and others invited as guests.
Raab did not explicitly name China or Russia but added: “We believe in safeguarding and promoting public goods – whether it’s the environment and tackling climate change, particularly with COP26 (climate summit) coming up in November, but also dealing with pandemics and public health more generally.”
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that the world’s major democracies needed a joint China strategy with more focus on human rights.
“Economic interests are everywhere but issues of human rights and freedoms must be given greater space when it comes to China,” he added.
Russia is also in the spotlight following a brief troop build-up on the border with Ukraine, its imprisonment of opposition politician Alexei Navalny and the situation in Belarus.
“We are united by values such as democracy, freedom and human rights, and we want to represent these together again throughout the world,” Maas said.
Raab, who also held a bilateral meeting on the margins of the talks with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian, said the COVID-19 pandemic also dominated G7 discussions.
With India being ravaged by the virus at present, Raab said the COVAX international vaccine supply scheme was key along with other ventures.
“The COVAX mechanism is particularly important at this very sensitive time for the developing countries, the poorer countries and the most vulnerable countries around the world,” he said.
“We have been providing air concentrators, ventilators, things like that.
“Obviously, there’s a good opportunity because India is here to engage on all of those aspects. I think the important thing, when you’re going through the eye of the storm, is to really listen to what they need.”
COVID-19 precautions at the meeting included clear screens separating the attendees at the summit table and the Press Association cited an insider as joking that there was “hand sanitiser running down the walls”.
The foreign ministers’ meeting is taking place ahead of a full G7 summit planned for June in the English county of Cornwall.
Libya and Syria were discussed while the military coup in Myanmar was also on the agenda.
The UK Foreign Office said Raab is urging G7 countries to take stronger action against the military junta, including by expanding targeted sanctions.
On Wednesday the ministers are expected to discuss an aid program to promote girls’ education among other topics.
Maas will also hold individual talks with his counterparts from the UK, Canada and India on the sidelines of the meeting.
The three-day G7 meeting will then end with a final declaration.