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G-7 leaders pledge over 1 billion coronavirus vaccine doses for poorer nations

As the group agreed to take a harder line against China, President Joe Biden hailed the summit as a return of American leadership on the world stage.
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LONDON — The leaders of the world's seven richest countries agreed to donate 1 billion coronavirus vaccine doses to poorer countries over the next year and to take a harder line against China, which President Joe Biden hailed Sunday as a return of U.S. leadership on the world stage.

As the Group of Seven summit in the English town of Carbis Bay wrapped up, Biden said at a news conference in nearby Newquay that the Covid-19 pandemic would be a "constant project for a long time."

There was a "clear consensus" among the other leaders that commitments they had made to donate vaccine doses wouldn't be the end, he said, adding that the U.S. would be responsible for around half of the 1 billion doses.

Democracies had a duty to "step up and deliver," he said, adding that the U.S. may eventually be able to contribute 1 billion more doses.

At a separate news conference, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the donations would be both direct transfers of vaccine doses and funding to COVAX, the global vaccine buying system backed by the World Health Organization and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, he said at a news conference in Cornwall, about 500 miles west of London.

The commitment falls far short of the 11 billion doses the WHO has said are needed to vaccinate at least 70 percent of the world's population.

Other pledges were agreed to on China and climate change and on a plan to make multinational corporations pay their fair share of taxes, according to an end-of-summit communiqué.

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On his first trip abroad as president, Biden had sought to make countering China a significant part of the G-7 summit. The U.S. and the six other countries — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.K. — chastised Beijing for repression of its Uyghur minority and other rights abuses.

The G-7 will continue to challenge "practices which undermine the fair and transparent operation of the global economy," the communiqué said. It also called on "China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang ... and autonomy for Hong Kong."

As a growing number of scientists take seriously the possibility that the virus responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic escaped from a Chinese laboratory, the G-7 called for "timely, transparent, expert-led" studies into the origins of the pandemic in the face of Chinese stonewalling.

Biden also told reporters Sunday that he backed plans for "values-driven" financing of infrastructure programs for developing countries, which could rival China's huge Belt and Road initiative.

China, the world's second-largest economy, isn't part of the bloc, and a spokesman for its embassy in London cautioned Sunday that the days when "small" groups of countries decided the fate of the world were long gone.

After strained ties between former President Donald Trump and Western allies, Biden's arrival was welcomed by fellow leaders; British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed him a "breath of fresh air" Saturday. French President Emmanuel Macron said it was "great to have a U.S. president part of the club and very willing to cooperate."

Biden said Sunday that there was palpable enthusiasm that "America was back at the table" and could be "counted on again" in global affairs.

The G-7 leaders also committed Sunday to increase their climate finance contributions to meet an overdue spending pledge of $100 billion a year to help poorer countries cut carbon emissions and cope with global warming.

The British naturalist David Attenborough addressed the leaders by video earlier in the day, warning that the "natural world today is greatly diminished" as he pressed for urgent action.

"The decisions we make this decade — in particular the decisions made by the most economically advanced nations — are the most important in human history," he said.

Some environmentalist groups said the pledges didn't go far enough. Greenpeace U.K. accused Johnson of producing "reheated old promises" and said it would take "nothing for granted" until countries came up with the money.

As the host of the summit, the U.K. was on a charm offensive, deploying the royal family to meet world leaders Friday. But the consequences of its departure from the European Union also hung over the meeting, as Johnson clashed with E.U. officials over the treatment of goods in Northern Ireland after Brexit.

Nonetheless, the leaders smiled for photos on the beach during a barbecue Saturday night and watched an aeronautic display by the Royal Air Force Red Arrows. Biden and his wife, Jill, surprised local residents when they attended a small Catholic church for a service Sunday morning by the coast on the tip of southwest England.

Later Sunday, Biden traveled to Windsor Castle to have tea with Queen Elizabeth II.