G7 confronts China on trade, Pope talks about AI

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni receives Pope Francis upon his arrival at the G7 Leaders' Summit on day two of the 50th G7 Summit at Borgo Egnazia on June 14, 2024 in Fasano, Italy.

Vatican Swimming Pool | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Pope Francis made a historic appearance at the Group of Seven summit on Friday to discuss the pros and cons of artificial intelligence, while G7 leaders also vowed to tackle what they say are harmful business practices by China.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, host of the summit, invited the Pope and other heads of state and government, including the Prime Minister of India and the King of Jordan, in an effort to show that the G7 was not a distant, exclusive club.

“We will never accept the narrative that 'the West wants against the rest,'” Meloni said at the meeting on Friday.

The Pope, who arrived in a wheelchair and was warmly greeted by leaders including US President Joe Biden and a fellow Argentine, President Javier Milei, acknowledged the ambivalence around AI, saying it could create excitement and increase access to knowledge can broaden.

“But at the same time, it could entail greater injustice between advanced and developing countries or between dominant and oppressed social classes,” the 87-year-old said.

The main members of the G7 – the United States, Italy, Britain, France, Germany, Japan and Canada – had previously focused on China's economic power and what they see as unbalanced markets in areas such as electric vehicles, steel and renewable energy.

Their statement at the summit, released on Friday evening, stressed that the G7 is not seeking to harm China or thwart its economic development, but will “continue to take actions to protect our companies from unfair practices, to level the playing field and repair the ongoing damage.”

The G7 also warned of action against Chinese financial institutions that helped Russia obtain weapons for its war against Ukraine.

Washington this week imposed new sanctions on China-based companies that supply semiconductors to Russia, amid concerns about Beijing's increasingly aggressive stance against Taiwan and conflict with the Philippines over rival maritime claims.

Migration coalition

The leaders also discussed immigration, a crucial issue for Meloni, who is pushing Europe to help curb illegal flows from Africa and who has launched a flagship plan to boost development on the continent to address the root cause of the departure.

They agreed to launch a coalition to crack down on human smuggling, including increased cooperation on investigations into human smuggling networks and the seizure of their assets.

“Illegal migration is now a global emergency,” said British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. “We all agree that it is up to sovereign nations to control their borders, not criminal gangs.”

Sunak said it was the first time a G7 summit had discussed migration, calling it a sign of progress.

“Obviously these things don't happen overnight,” he said. “(But) the conversation … was very productive, so I'm confident it will make a difference.”

On the first day of their meeting in southern Italy, the G7 countries agreed to a deal to provide Ukraine with $50 billion in loans, backed by interest from frozen Russian assets. They called the agreement a strong signal of Western resolve.

Pope Francis and world leaders during a working session on Artificial Intelligence (AI), energy, Africa-Mediterranean on day two of the 50th G7 Summit at Borgo Egnazia on June 14, 2024 in Fasano, Italy.

Christopher Furlong | Getty Images News | Getty Images

In the summit statement, G7 leaders said they wanted to impose even more costs on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, and also pledged sanctions against entities that helped Russia evade restrictions on its oil trade by fraudulently transporting it.

However, Meloni, who heads a right-wing government, found himself in troubled waters over the handling of sensitive social issues in the statement summarizing the work of the G7.

G7 leaders made no direct reference to abortion in their final communiqué, with Italy refusing to bow to French pressure to include the word. The draft also led to accusations that support for LGBTQ rights would be watered down compared to the statement issued at the leaders' previous meeting in Japan.

Italy said it was a diplomatic storm in a teacup and argued that the G7 had not changed its position on either issue.

Many of the leaders, including Biden, were expected to leave Italy late Friday. There will be room for bilateral meetings on Saturday for those who remain, ahead of a final press conference by Meloni.

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