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Biden focused G-7 Summit disappoints

By Asad Mirza

The 3Cs: Covid, China and Climate Change dominated the 47th annual G-7 Summit in Cornwall, UK. But overall the leaders were not able to present a united stand on any major issue.

The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wanted the summit to showcase his brand of ‘Global Britain’, after Brexit. But there were terse exchanges between the French, EU and British leaders and officials on the issue. In effect, the summit turned out to be more Biden focused and expectations were raised high on some real agreement taking place on the 3C’s before the summit, though that was not the result ultimately.

Broadly, Biden sought to set a new tone after the unrestrained Trump years. Most G-7 leaders seemed relieved to have a return to a more predictable and traditional US administration. France’s Emmanuel Macron welcomed Biden back to the “club.” But the final Communique showed that even Biden’s expectations to ensure a consensus on many of his promises fell short.

On the issue of Covid-19, the leaders of the seven most affluent western nations seemed united, but there was a difference of opinion on the way forward. Earlier, they had shown commitment to donate 1 billion Covid-19 vaccine doses over the next year to poorer countries. But in reality the bloc fell short of its own goal — 613 million new doses pledged, instead of a billion.

Even so, the vaccine effort gave Biden some help with his China push. Biden has criticised China for a transactional brand of vaccine diplomacy, where the shots are being doled out for geopolitical advantage. Biden called on democracies to counter China and Russia by donating vaccines equally and based on need, without seeking favours in return.

On the second day of the summit, US unveiled plans to counter China through infrastructure funding for poorer nations. Promising to “collectively catalyse” hundreds of billions of infrastructure investment for low- and middle-income countries, the G7 leaders said they would offer a “values-driven, high-standard and transparent” partnership.

G-7s “Build Back Better World” (B3W) project was aimed directly at competing with China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road Infrastructure (BRI) initiative.

However, several leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, pushed back over worries about turning the G-7 into an anti-China group, suggesting any infrastructure programme should be framed as a more positive, pro-environment effort.

French President Emmanuel Macron also pushed back publicly, saying that the “G-7 is not a group that is hostile to China.” Macron was one leader who sought the middle ground.

China hit back at these statements dismissively saying that the days when “global decisions” were dictated by a “small group of countries are long gone”.

The final version of the communique skirted B3W, instead creating a task force to study how to spur infrastructure development abroad. It made no mention of BRI, though Biden renewed his call at a press conference, and said that, “I proposed that we have a democratic alternative to the Belt and Road initiative, to build back better.”

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced last month that due to surging Covid cases in India, he’d not travel to the UK, he addressed the summit virtually. He conveyed India’s commitment to “collective” solution to global health challenges, and called for “one earth, one health” approach, which aims for unity and solidarity among the states of the world to deal with the pandemic. He also emphasised the need to keep raw materials for vaccines easily accessible.

The summit’s Communique, which was issued several hours after the end of the summit, promises many things but falls short of what was expected to be achieved before the summit.

(The Op-Ed appeared in IANS)

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Biden brings focus back on Democracy & Diplomacy

London: With the world confronting the immediate crisis of a pandemic and the long-term challenge of climate change, President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain met on Thursday.

Their meeting, as per a joint statement, focused on democracy, human rights and multilateralism; defense and security; science and technology; trade and prosperity; climate and nature; health; and the shared commitment to Northern Ireland.

The two leaders laid out their “global vision” in an updated version of the Atlantic Charter of 1941, the agreement authorized by Roosevelt and Churchill that established a set of post-war objectives for the two countries’ relationship.

President Biden is on his first visit abroad to attend the G7 summit in England, meet NATO and EU leaders in Brussels, and have a fraught one-on-one meeting with the Russian President Putin in Geneva.

Giving words to the message of this trip, Biden told US troops at an air base in eastern England on Wednesday, “We’re going to make it clear that the United States is back and democracies of the world are standing together to tackle the toughest challenges.”

President Biden embraced allies that his predecessor, Donald J. Trump disparaged, saying nations must join forces on the pandemic, global warming, free trade and the challenges of China and Russia.

Under pressure to address the global coronavirus vaccine shortage, Biden announced on Thursday that the US will buy half a billion doses of vaccine and donate them for use by about 100 low- and middle-income countries, including India, over the next year.

“This is about our responsibility, our humanitarian obligation, to save as many lives as we can,” Mr. Biden said in a speech.

VP Harris’ stern message on migration

Vice President Kamala Harris with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. (Photo courtesy NYT)

Also traveling abroad, Vice President Kamala Harris met with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Tuesday, capping her first foreign trip with a discussion on economic cooperation, as well as joint efforts to combat human trafficking and manage migration to their shared border.

According to a statement from her spokeswoman, the Biden administration would issue loans for affordable housing, efforts to grow cacao and coffee and infrastructure project development.

The U.S. will also invest $130 million over three years to support labor protections for Mexican workers and will also provide forensic training to Mexican officials seeking to find tens of thousands of missing people.

“The two leaders also agreed to increase cooperation to further secure our borders and ensure orderly immigration,” Ms. Sanders said.

Ms. Harris and Mr. López Obrador signed an agreement in Mexico’s national palace reiterating their governments’ commitment to deter migration north by addressing its root causes: poverty, persecution and corruption in Central America.

The meeting concludes a high-stakes visit for Ms. Harris to Mexico and Guatemala, where she was on Monday. She has been tapped by President Biden to be the administration’s emissary for one of its more complex and politically volatile issues: improving conditions in Central America and deterring migration to the U.S.-Mexico border.

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B1.617.2 variant: UK PM says won’t deviate from lockdown plans

London: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there is nothing conclusive yet that indicates that the B1.617.2 variant of COVID-19 would force Britain to deviate from its roadmap to lift lockdown restrictions fully next month.

He said that the experts continue to monitor the data on the variant, which was first identified in India.

“We are looking at the epidemiology the whole time as it comes in and, at the moment, partly because we have built up such a wall of defenses with the vaccination program, I don’t see anything conclusive at the moment to say that we need to deviate from the roadmap,” he said, in reference to the government’s scheduled June 21 timeline for a complete lifting of lockdown restrictions.”

“But we’ve got to be cautious and we are keeping everything under very close observation. We’ll know a lot more in a few days” time,” the prime minister said.

PM Johnson used a visit to a vaccination centre in London to reiterate a message for the British public to continue to come forward for their vaccination when they are invited by the National Health Service (NHS) in order to protect against all variants of COVID-19.

“The numbers (vaccinations) are incredibly high. And I know that… some people have been more vaccine-hesitant than others, but actually, across the whole of society, the numbers continue to go up in every group. And that’s very, very encouraging. And I would urge everybody – just to make the obvious point – who is eligible for a vaccine, when you get your call up, when you get the notification from the NHS, come and get your jab,” he said.

“We do not yet know to what extent it is more transmissible. While we do not have a complete picture of the impact of the vaccine, the early laboratory data from Oxford University corroborates the provisional evidence from the Royal Bolton Hospital and the initial observational data from India that vaccines are effective against the variant. This, of course, is reassuring, but the higher transmission poses a real risk,” he added.

According to the latest data, more than 36.7 million people have had their first vaccine dose in the UK and more than 20.2 million have had their second. The NHS bookings for vaccination are now open to all those aged 36 and over.

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First shipment of UK Covid medical aid arrives in India

New Delhi: Vital medical supplies began to reach India on April 27 as hospitals starved of life-saving oxygen and beds turned away coronavirus patients, and a surge in infections pushed the death toll towards 200,000.

A shipment from Britain, including 100 ventilators and 95 oxygen concentrators, arrived in the capital, New Delhi, though a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain had no surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to spare.

“We stand side by side with India as a friend and partner during what is a deeply concerning time in the fight against Covid-19,” Johnson said in a statement.

“Vital medical equipment, including hundreds of oxygen concentrators and ventilators, is now on its way from the UK to India to support efforts to prevent the tragic loss of life from this terrible virus. We will continue to work closely with the Indian government during this difficult time and I’m determined to make sure that the UK does everything it can to support the international community in the global fight against pandemic.”

In total, nine airline container-loads of supplies, including 495 oxygen concentrators, 120 non-invasive ventilators and 20 manual ventilators, will be sent to the country, the British Foreign Ministry, which is funding the aid, said.

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India announces climate partnership with US at Biden’s Leaders’ Summit

Washington, DC: Participating in the Leaders’ Summit on Climate hosted by US President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Narendra Modi outlined India’s efforts towards clean energy, energy efficiency and biodiversity. Emphasizing the ‘grave threat’ of climate change, PM Modi called for a concrete action ‘at a high speed, on a large scale and with a global scope.’ The Prime Minister also announced the launch of an India-US Climate & Clean Energy Agenda 2030 partnership as he made his remarks on ‘Our Collective Sprint to 2030’.

The leaders invited for the summit represent the countries that are members of the US-led Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate and those vulnerable to climate change. Amongst the global dignitaries present in the virtual summit, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was also present and made his remarks after PM Modi concluded. US President Joe Biden had invited 40 world leaders for the two-day virtual Summit to galvanize efforts by the major economies to tackle the climate crisis.

“Today, India’s per capita carbon footprint is 60% lower than the global average. It is because of our lifestyle which is still rooted in sustainable traditional practices. So today, I want to emphasize the importance of lifestyle change in climate action. Sustainable lifestyles and important peeler of our economic strategy for the post COVID era,” PM Modi added in his address. 

“I recall the words of the great Indian monk Swami Vivekananda, he called on us to ‘Arise, Awake and stop not until the goal is reached.’ Let us make this decade of action against climate change,” PM Modi concluded his address.  

The 40 global leaders who have received the invite include Chinese President Xi Jinping, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, among others. As per the US state department, the themes of the summit include mobilization of public and private sector finance to drive the net-zero transition and to help vulnerable countries cope with climate impacts. (Source:

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Biden’s summit: UK sets target to slash emissions by 78%

New Delhi/New York: Ahead of Britain Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressing the opening session of the US Leaders’ Summit on Climate, hosted by US President Joe Biden on Earth Day, the UK government announced to set the world’s most ambitious climate change target into law to reduce emissions by 78 per cent by 2035 compared to 1990 levels.

For the first time, the UK’s sixth Carbon Budget will incorporate the UK’s share of international aviation and shipping emissions, bringing more than three-quarters of the way to net zero by 2050.

In line with the recommendation from the independent Climate Change Committee, this sixth Carbon Budget limits the volume of greenhouse gases emitted over a five-year period from 2033 to 2037.

According to the UK government, the Carbon Budget will ensure Britain remains on track to end its contribution to climate change while remaining consistent with the Paris Agreement temperature goal to limit global warming to well below 2oC and pursue efforts towards 1.5oC.

Enshrining the new target in law to slash emissions was announced on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Johnson said: “We want to continue to raise the bar on tackling climate change, and that’s why we’re setting the most ambitious target to cut emissions in the world.

“The UK will be home to pioneering businesses, new technologies and green innovation as we make progress to net zero emissions, laying the foundations for decades of economic growth in a way that creates thousands of jobs.

“We want to see world leaders follow our lead and match our ambition in the run up to the crucial climate summit COP26, as we will only build back greener and protect our planet if we come together to take action.”

The government is already working towards its commitment to reduce emissions in 2030 by at least 68 per cent compared to 1990 levels through the UK’s latest Nationally Determined Contribution — the highest reduction target made by a major economy to date.

Today’s world-leading announcement builds on this goal to achieve a 78 per cent reduction by 2035.

The new target will become enshrined in law by the end of June 2021.

Prior to enshrining its net zero commitment in law, the UK had a target of reducing emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 — through Tuesday’s sixth Carbon Budget announcement, the government is aiming to achieve almost the same level 15 years earlier.

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UK puts India on travel ‘red list’; Johnson cancels official visit

London: The United Kingdom has added India to the travel ‘red list’, country’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on April 19. The announcement came hours after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson cancelled his scheduled visit to India.

The red list, which includes 39 other countries along with India, denies entry to anyone who has visited the listed nations in the past 10 days. The British and Irish citizens, however, are allowed to return but would be mandatorily quarantined for 10 days from the time of arrival.

India will be added to the stringent red list from 4 am on April 23, Hancock told the Parliament. “We must protect the progress that we’ve made in this country,” the Health Secretary said, adding that 103 COVID-19 cases of the “Indian variant” – B.1.617 – have now been found in the UK”.

The move is expected to significantly hurt the business operations of Air India and Vistara – the two airlines operating a number of planes between the UK and India.

Currently, five weekly flights of Air India, two of British Airways and three of Virgin Atlantic are operational between Mumbai and London’s Heathrow airport.

Between the Delhi airport and Heathrow, six flights a week of Air India, three of British Airways and two weekly flights each of Vistara and Virgin Atlantic operate while three weekly flights of British Airways and two of Air India also operate between the Heathrow and Hyderabad airports.

Earlier in the day, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement claiming that the two countries have mutually decided to defer Johnson’s visit to India that was scheduled next week.

“In view of the COVID-19 situation, it has been decided by mutual agreement that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom will not visit India next week. The two sides will be holding a virtual meeting in the coming days to launch plans for a transformed India-UK relationship,” it said.

The second round of pandemic has now led to an explosion of cases in India, with the country reporting over two lakh cases a day for nearly a week. As per the last update issued by the Union Health Ministry on April 19, a total of 2,73,810 fresh infections and 1,619 deaths were reported.

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Post Brexit, UK shifts foreign policy focus to Indo-Pacific

London: Britain wants to expand its influence among countries in the Indo-Pacific region to try to moderate China’s global dominance, a document laying out post-Brexit foreign and defense policy priorities said.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who formally launched the ‘Global Britain in a competitive age: The Integrated Review of Security, Defense, Development and Foreign Policy’ document in the House of Commons, underlined this so-called Indo-Pacific tilt by confirming his visit to India next month, an application for partner status of the Association of Southeast Asian nations (ASEAN) economic union and the Royal Navy warship Queen Elizabeth Carrier deployment to the region.

“I am delighted to announce that I will visit India next month to strengthen our friendship with the world’s biggest democracy,” he said in his Commons statement.

“Britain will remain unswervingly committed to NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organisation] and preserving peace and security in Europe, and from this secure basis, we will seek out friends and partners wherever they can be found, building a coalition for openness and innovation, and engaging more deeply in the Indo-Pacific,” he said, highlighting an invitation to India, Australia and South Korea to attend the UK-hosted G7 Summit as part of “deeper engagement” in the Indo-Pacific.

Besides being at the “frontline of new security challenges”, the region’s shipping lanes are also seen as vital to maintain UK trade with Asia.

The 100-page document also takes note of China’s growing international stature as being “by far the most significant geopolitical factor in the world today”, with major implications for British values and interests and for the structure and shape of the international order.

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Reopening schools national effort to beat Covid: UK PM

London: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the reopening of schools in England as a “national effort” to beat coronavirus, even though some experts warned that the country is still not “out of the woods”.

On February 22, Johnson had announced his long-anticipated “roadmap” exiting the lockdown, under which schools in England are scheduled to reopen from March 15 as the first part of the four-step plan, Xinhua news agency reported.

According to the Prime Minister, the plan was designed to be “cautious but irreversible”.

Under the guidance, secondary schools students across England are to receive three Covid-19 lateral-flow tests before using at-home kits twice a week.

Speaking to Sky News, Johnson said: “The reopening of schools marks a truly national effort to beat this virus.

“It is because of the determination of every person in this country that we can start moving closer to a sense of normality — and it is right that getting our young people back into the classroom is the first step.”

However, experts have warned Britain is “still not out of the woods” amid concerns over new variants and the risks of the public breaching restriction rules.

“We have done fantastically well in the last couple of months but we are not completely out of the woods yet,” Britain’s National Statistician Ian Diamond said on March 6.

“I’m very much of the view that we should do everything we can not to blow it nationally,” Diamond added.

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