IMAGES G7 foreign and development ministers pose for a family photo at Lancaster House in London as they meet for their first face-to-face talks in more than two years.

The Group of Seven wealthy democracies on Tuesday discussed how to form a common front towards an increasingly assertive China in the foreign ministers’ first in-person talks in two years.

Backing US President Joe Biden’s calls for a deeper alliance of democracies, host Britain invited guests including India, South Korea and Australia for talks in central London stretched out over three days.

The G7 devoted its first session Tuesday to China, whose growing military and economic clout and willingness to exert its influence at home and abroad have increasingly unnerved Western democracies.

“What we are trying to do is to uphold the international rules-based order that our countries have invested so much in over so many decades to the benefit, I would argue, not just of our own citizens, but of people around the world — including, by the way, China.”

– Cooperation where possible –

But in line with the Biden administration, which has shifted the tone if not substance of former president Donald Trump’s hawkish stance on China, Raab also called for “finding constructive ways to work with China in a sensible and positive manner where that’s possible” — including on climate change.

The nations of the G7 — which also include Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan — mostly share concerns about China but some have different approaches.

Italy has been seen as one of the most Beijing-friendly nations in the West, in 2019 signing up for China’s massive infrastructure-building Belt and Road Initiative.

One of Blinken’s predecessors as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said democracies needed to “put tremendous pressure on China in the court of public opinion”.

– Preparing for summit –

Blinken will head on Wednesday to Ukraine in a show of support after Russia last month amassed and then pulled back 100,000 troops in border regions and Crimea.

Borrell called the negotiations “difficult” and welcomed the return of in-person diplomacy.

With in-person talks, “it’s the way you forge consensus; this is the way you forge agreements,” he said.

Ministers are meeting under strict coronavirus protocols, with stripped-back delegations and social distancing, including face-masks and perspex screens between speakers.

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