The leaders of the G7 nations have joined together to push for a fresh investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, demanding transparency from China.
In a communique released at the conclusion of the G7 summit in Cornwall today, the leaders of the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, Italy and Japan called for a “timely, transparent, expert-led and science-based” study, convened by the World Health Organisation (WHO), to determine how the pandemic began.
They also called on China to “respect human rights and fundamental freedoms”, alluding to its treatment of the Uighur ethnic minority in Xinjiang, as well as Hong Kong.
A previous WHO study into Covid-19’s origins was hampered by China’s lack of co-operation. The organisation’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said it was not “extensive enough” and “further investigation” was required.
Last month, US President Joe Biden revealed he had ordered his country’s intelligence agencies to seek more information about the virus’s beginnings in the hope of reaching a”definitive conclusion”.
He said US intelligence had “coalesced” around two possibilities: that Covid-19 emerged from human contact with an infected animal, or that it came from a lab accident. However, there was too little evidence to draw a conclusion either way.
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During his press conference at the end of the G7 summit, Mr Biden was asked what China could do to “ease tensions” with other countries.
“I think China has to start to act more responsibly in terms of international norms on human rights and transparency. Transparency matters across the board,” Mr Biden said.
“We haven’t had access to the laboratories to determine whether or not – and I have not reached a conclusion, because our intelligence community is not certain yet – whether or not this was a consequence of a marketplace, a bat interfacing with animals (he meant humans) … or whether it was an experiment gone awry in a laboratory.
“It’s important to know that.”
He said a continuing lack of transparency from China could lead to another pandemic.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also highlighted the G7 leaders’ demand for a more thorough investigation during an appearance on Fox News, calling the initial WHO effort “highly deficient”.
“The leaders of the G7 have come together insisting that China co-operate with the so-called phase two study by the WHO to really get to the bottom of what happened. But that is not enough,” said Mr Blinken.
“We need to get to the bottom of what happened. We need accountability, but we also need to understand what happened, why it happened, how it happened, if we’re going to be able to put in place the necessary measures to prevent it from happening again, or at least be in a better place to mitigate the next pandemic if we can’t fully prevent one.
“(Mr Biden) ordered back in March that we try to determine for ourselves the origins of Covid-19. We came up with two plausible explanations: one is the so-called natural occurrence … the other is a lab leak. But we couldn’t determine with any degree of certainty which one it was.”
The G7 communique also called out Russia, whose President Vladimir Putin will meet Mr Biden for bilateral talks on Wednesday.
“We reiterate our interest in stable and predictable relations with Russia, and will continue to engage where there are areas of mutual interest,” the leaders said.
“We reaffirm our call on Russia to stop its destabilising behaviour and malign activities, including its interference in other countries’ democratic systems, and to fulfil it’s international human rights obligations and commitments.
“In particular, we call on Russia to urgently investigate and credibly explain the use of a chemical weapon on its soil, to end its systematic crackdown on independent civil society and media, and to identify, disrupt, and hold to account those within its borders who conduct ransomware attacks, abuse virtual currency, and other cybercrimes.”
They also reiterated their support for Ukraine and called for Russia to withdraw its military troops from the nation’s eastern border, as well as the Crimean peninsula.
The White House has said Mr Biden will use his summit with Mr Putin to discuss a “full range of pressing issues”, including Ukraine, arms control and the plot by Russia-backed autocrat Alexander Lukashenko to force a commercial plane to land in Belarus so an anti-government journalist could be arrested.
At today’s media conference, Mr Biden agreed with a recent remark from Putin, who said relations between the US and Russia were at a historic low point.
He explained his decision to hold a press conference alone following the pair’s meeting, instead of the joint press conference that typically happens after bilateral talks.
“This is not a contest about who can do better in front of a press conference and try to embarrass each other. It is about making myself very clear what the conditions are to get a better relationship with Russia,” said the President.
“The bottom line is, I think the best way to deal with this is for he and I to meet, to have our discussion. Don’t doubt that I’ll be very straightforward with him about our concerns. And I will make clear my view of how that meeting turned out, and he’ll make clear from his perspective how it turned out.
“But I don’t want to get into being diverted by (concerns like) did they shake hands, who talked the most, and the rest.”
There were no such tensions at Windsor Castle this afternoon as Mr Biden and his wife, Dr Jill Biden, met with Queen Elizabeth.
The President carried out an inspection of the guard, and was heard exchanging small talk with the monarch.
He is the 13th US president she has met in her 69 years on the throne.