G-7 takes aim at China over Taiwan Strait

Foreign ministers of leading economies hold no punches on China, denouncing human rights violations and escalation of tensions with Taiwan.,

LONDON — G7 foreign ministers urged Beijing to refrain from ramping up “tensions” in the East and South China Seas, amid concern about open conflict with Taiwan.

In a strongly-worded communique issued after two days of face-to-face meetings in London, foreign ministers from the group of advanced economies called on China “to participate constructively in the rules-based international system.”

“We underscore the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues,” they said. “We reiterate our strong opposition to any unilateral actions that could escalate tensions and undermine regional stability and the international rules-based order and express serious concerns about reports of militarisation, coercion, and intimidation in the region.”

It marks the first time that the EU and some of its most prominent members, including Germany and France, have aligned with the U.S. over the situation in the Taiwan Strait.

Shortly after U.S. President Joe Biden came to power, the U.S. State Department reaffirmed its “rock-solid commitment” to helping Taiwan defend itself from China, which claims Taiwan as part of its own territory. Beijing has carried out regular flights over international waters in the East and South China Seas in recent months.

China’s increasing assertiveness is spooking politicians in Western democracies, and the country was the focus of a long G7 session on Tuesday morning, where it became evident not every G7 member shares the same views on the recognition of Taiwan as an independent state.

However, the final communique backed Taiwan’s “meaningful participation” in the World Health Organization and the World Health Assembly.

The G7 also urged China to “act responsibly in cyber space,” including refraining from intellectual property theft; end practices that “undermine” free trade; and stop human rights abuses against both the Uyghurs in Xinjiang region, and the people of Tibet.

Beijing has repeatedly rejected reports of human rights violations in Xinjiang, and considers the treatment of minorities an internal issue not to be discussed with other governments. The U.S. has declared China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims as a genocide.

The G7 ministers said they “strongly” back “independent and unfettered access” to Xinjiang for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, who has until now been prevented from investigating on the ground. They also emphasized the need to tackle forced labor — a key charge against Beijing in Xinjiang — through their own “domestic means.”

The G7 statement includes tough words on Hong Kong, too, accusing Beijing of moving to “erode democratic elements of the electoral system” there and urging China to respect Hong Kong’s “high degree of autonomy and rights and freedoms.”

While the statement talks tough on China, there were some olive branches. The G7 ministers stressed the importance of continued cooperation with Beijing on climate change and global health.

The G7’s British hosts are focusing heavily on their country’s post-Brexit “tilt” toward the Indo-Pacific. As part of that diplomatic shift, London invited the foreign ministers of Australia, India, South Korea and South Africa, as well as the chair of the 10-strong Association of Southeast Asian Nations, to take part in some sessions as guests.

The communique stressed the importance of maintaining a “free and open” Indo-Pacific, including the “territorial integrity” of the countries in the region.

‘Irresponsible’ behavior

Moscow also comes in for heavy criticism in the G7 statement, with ministers noting the “negative pattern of Russia’s irresponsible and destabilising behaviour,” a reference to a spike in Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders and in “illegally-annexed” Crimea.

Russia comes under fire for “malign activities” aimed at undermining democracies; the use of disinformation; and “malicious cyber activity,” while there’s fresh condemnation of the poisoning on Russian territory of dissident Alexei Navalny with a nerve agent.

Yet, according to a diplomat attending the meeting, there was a clear desire among G7 members to improve relations with Moscow. “We reiterate our interest in stable and predictable relations with Russia,” the communique states, even while warning the G7 will continue to build up its defenses against Russian threats.

Closer to home, the G7 ministers backed the opening of EU accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, and urge Kosovo and Serbia to normalize their relationships following the former’s declaration of independence. The group also showed support for the reform agenda pegged to the EU’s accession talks with Montenegro and Serbia. But on Bosnia and Herzegovina, there’s a warning: any attempt to undermine their territorial integrity will not be welcomed.

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