In its strongest rebuke of China since the Tiananmen Square crackdown more than 30 years ago, the G7 has called for a fresh investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic and urged China to “respect human rights and fundamental freedoms” in Hong Kong and Xinjiang . The Group of 7 leaders ended talks in Cornwall, on the southwest coast of England, on Sunday with direct and indirect references to China, highlighting the need to support democratic societies and to strengthen supply chains and support development in crucial technologies. They supported a new investigation into the origins of Covid-19, which was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. “We also call for a timely, transparent, expert-led and science-based WHO-convened phase 2 Covid-19 origins study including, as recommended by the experts’ report, in China,” the statement read, referring to the World Health Organization. Britain, the European Union and the United States all made similar calls before the summit. The group called on China “to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang and those rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law”. The statement underlined “the importance of maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific, which is inclusive and based on the rule of law”. “We underscore the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues. We remain seriously concerned about the situation in the East and South China seas and strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo and increase tensions,” it said. China’s policies in its western region of Xinjiang – where UN members, human rights groups and other investigators say Beijing has detained more than a million ethnic Uygurs and other Muslim minorities – was first of three priority areas that will require “concrete action” by G7 countries, according to a statement about the talks released by the White House shortly before the full communique. “The United States and our G7 partners remain deeply concerned by the use of all forms of forced labour in global supply chains, including state-sponsored forced labour of vulnerable groups and minorities and supply chains of the agricultural, solar and garment sectors – the main supply chains of concern in Xinjiang ,” the White House said. The White House statement did not use the term “genocide” to describe China’s actions in Xinjiang although US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have used the description before and since the administration took office. In a press briefing after the communique was released, Biden criticised Beijing’s refusal to allow full access to laboratory records and virus samples that could provide help fight Covid-19 as an example of the government’s lack of transparency, not only in finding the source of the pandemic, but in the way Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure projects are handled. “We haven’t had access to the laboratories,” Biden said. “I have not reached a conclusion because our intelligence community is not certain yet whether or not this was a consequence from the marketplace about bats interfacing with animals in the environment that caused this Covid-19 or whether it was an experiment gone awry in the laboratory.” “China has its Belt and Road Initiative, and we think that there’s a much more equitable way to provide for the needs of countries around the world,” he said, promoting the “Build Back Better World (B3W) plan presented as an alternative to China’s initiative. “We believe that will not only be good for the countries, but good for the entire world and represent values that our democracies represent, and not autocratic lack of values,” he added. Also in reference to China, the G7 statement said that the group would “cooperate where it is in our mutual interest on shared global challenges, in particular addressing climate change and biodiversity loss in the context of COP26 and other multilateral discussions”. Regarding China’s role in the multilateral system, the G7 will “continue to consult on collective approaches to challenging non-market policies and practices which undermine the fair and transparent operation of the global economy”. In a statement after the summit’s conclusion, British Prime Minister and G7 host Boris Johnson did not mention China directly, but appeared to head off some of the criticism that has already come from Beijing. “It’s not good enough for us to just rest on our laurels and talk about how important those values are. And this isn’t about imposing our values on the rest of the world. What we as the G7 need to do is demonstrate the benefits of democracy and freedom and human rights to rest of the world,” Johnson said. G7 leaders turn attention to China with announcement of global version of Biden’s ‘build back better’ plan China was mentioned four times over 25 pages, but countless other sections allude to Beijing without mentioning it by name. It mentioned the G7’s much-vaunted infrastructure drive, which has been billed as a “green” alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, but still, few details were revealed. It hit out at “state-sponsored forced labour of vulnerable groups and minorities, including in the agricultural, solar and garment sectors”, all sectors in which China has been accused of deploying widespread forced labour in Xinjiang. In an interview with Euronews on the sidelines of the summit, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “It is first important to convince our partners [that] with us, the investment comes without strings attached compared to China.” Earlier on Sunday, China’s Embassy in London criticised the G7’s infrastructure plans. “We always believe that countries, big or small, strong or weak, poor or rich, are equals, and that world affairs should be handled through consultation by all countries,” the statement said. “The days when global decisions were dictated by a small group of countries are long gone.” The leaders said they would “task G7 trade ministers to identify areas for strengthened cooperation and collective efforts towards eradicating the use of all forms of forced labour in global supply chains, ahead of the G7 trade ministers’ meeting in October 2021”. The spectre of China also loomed large over language on trade and economic recovery, which vowed to strengthen rules to prevent “forced technology transfer, intellectual property theft, lowering of labour and environmental standards to gain competitive advantage, market-distorting actions of state owned enterprises, and harmful industrial subsidies, including those that lead to excess capacity”. Again, as individuals and as a group, G7 members have long grumbled about China’s practices in these areas. Even on areas such as digital economy, language commonly used to criticise China made it into the statement. Leaders pledged to pursue common standards that “reflect our shared democratic values and commitment to open and competitive markets, strong safeguards including for human rights and fundamental freedoms”. Noah Barkin, a specialist in EU-China relations at the German Marshall Fund, said the statement was a “good step forward in terms of rhetorical alignment on China”. “But the hard work is only just beginning. G7 countries now need to put real money behind their B3W infrastructure initiative to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative,” he said. “They need to sort out what the limits are to economic and technological interaction with China. On this there remain substantial differences between the US and EU. These are highly complex issues that will take time and where alignment won’t be seamless,” he added. In 2020, after a virtual summit, China did not feature at all in the leaders’ final statement. The statement two years ago called for “violence to be ended in Hong Kong”, and had referenced territorial issues in the East and South China Seas in the five successive statements before this year’s. Beyond cotton, another thread in Xinjiang supply chain creates new snag for global textile firms But times have changed dramatically and China has become a major foreign policy issues for all of the G7 members, as well as the EU, a non-G7 member that attends all of the events. Since taking office, Biden has tried to rebuild a coalition of allies to counter the perceived China threat after four years of US isolationism under Donald Trump, and has encountered a mixture of support and resistance. An EU official who did not want to be named said that its approach had been geared towards securing “agreement on multifaceted approach towards China as a partner, competitor [and] rival”. “EU wants to constructively engage with China on issues such as climate change while remaining firm on our values and defending our interests,” the official said. Various media reports outlined division among the G7 leaders on how heavily the statement should feature China, with the US again pushing European members to take a tougher line.