G7 confronts China on commerce, pope talks about AI


Pope Francis made history becoming the first pontiff to attend the G7 summit of world leaders.
Pope Francis made history becoming the first pontiff to attend the G7 summit of world leaders.

Pope Francis has made an historic appearance at the Group of Seven summit to speak about the pros and cons of artificial intelligence, while G7 leaders also pledged to tackle what they said were harmful business practices by China.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, the summit host, 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 the G7 was not an aloof, exclusive club.

“We will never accept the narrative that wants the ‘West against the rest’,” Meloni told the meeting on Friday.

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Non-G7 leaders, such as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, were invited to attend. (AP PHOTO)

The pope, arriving in a wheelchair and warmly greeted by leaders including US President Joe Biden and a fellow Argentine, President Javier Milei, acknowledged the ambivalence surrounding AI, saying it could inspire excitement and broaden access to knowledge.

“Yet at the same time, it could bring with it a greater injustice between advanced and developing nations or between dominant and oppressed social classes,” the 87-year-old said.

The core G7 members, who also include Britain, France, Germany, Japan and Canada, had earlier focused on China’s economic power and what they regard as unbalanced markets in areas such as electric vehicles, steel and renewable energy.

Their summit statement, released on Friday evening, stressed the G7 was not trying to harm China or thwart its economic development but would “continue to take actions to protect our businesses from unfair practices, to level the playing field and remedy ongoing harm”.

Protest in Fasano against G7 summit
LGBT activists were unimpressed at the lack of mention of abortion in the G7 statement. (EPA PHOTO)

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

The US this week imposed fresh sanctions on China-based firms supplying semiconductors to Russia amid worries over Beijing’s increasingly aggressive stance against Taiwan and run-ins with the Philippines over rival maritime claims.

During the first day of their meeting in southern Italy, the G7 nations agreed an outline deal to provide $US50 billion ($A76 billion) of loans for Ukraine backed by interest from frozen Russian assets – hailing the accord as a powerful signal of Western resolve.

In the summit statement, G7 leaders said they wanted to inflict further costs on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, and also promised sanctions against entities that helped Russia circumvent restrictions on its oil trading by transporting it fraudulently.

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The G7 nations agreed an outline deal to provide $US50 billion ($A76 billion) of loans for Ukraine. (AP PHOTO)

However, Meloni, who heads a right-wing government, ran into choppy waters over the handling of sensitive social issues in the statement summing up the work of the G7.

G7 leaders made no direct reference to abortion in their final communique, with Italy refusing to bow to French pressure to include the word. The draft also sparked accusations of watering down support for LGBTQ rights compared with 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 stance on either issue.

Leaders also discussed immigration, a crucial issue for Meloni who is pushing Europe to help her curb illegal flows from Africa and who has launched a flagship plan to boost development in the continent to tackle the root cause of the departures.

Many of the leaders, including Biden, will leave Italy late on Friday. On Saturday, there will be room for bilateral meetings for those staying on, ahead of a final press conference from Meloni.