Foreign ministers from the G7 group of industrialised nations have called on China to “respect human rights and fundamental freedoms” following their first face-to-face meeting in over two years.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and his counterparts from the US, Canada, Japan, France, Germany, Italy and the EU met for a two-day summit hosted in London, where security challenges and the pandemic were on the agenda.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson denied the meeting was a mistake after India’s foreign minister was forced to pull out of attending in person after two positive coronavirus cases were detected in the country’s travelling delegation.

Subrahmanyam Jaishankar participated virtually in the event, where India had been invited as a guest, after coming into contact with the suspected cases, although he has not tested positive.

In a lengthy communique issued after the two-day summit, foreign ministers said they would continue to “look for opportunities” to work with China in efforts of promoting “regional and global peace, security and prosperity”.

However, the ministers condemned “human rights violations” in Xinjiang and Tibet, especially the targeting of Uighur people, as well as China’s “arbitrary, coercive economic policies”.

“In line with its obligations under international and national law, we call on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the joint statement said.

“We continue to be deeply concerned about human rights violations and abuses in Xinjiang and in Tibet, especially the targeting of Uighurs, members of other ethnic and religious minority groups, and the existence of a large-scale network of ‘political re-education’ camps, and reports of forced labour systems and forced sterilisation.

“We agree the importance of tackling instances of forced labour through our own available domestic means, including through raising awareness and providing advice and support for our business communities.

G7 Foreign and Development Ministers meeting
Dominic Raab and Boris Johnson at Lancaster House in London (Adrian Dennis/PA)

The statement said the foreign ministers were “united” in concerns regarding practices that “undermine… free and fair economic systems”, including on trade, investment and development finance.

“We will work collectively to foster global economic resilience in the face of arbitrary, coercive economic policies and practices,” it said.

“We urge China to assume and fulfil obligations and responsibilities commensurate with its global economic role.”

The foreign ministers also expressed concerns about Russia’s “irresponsible and destabilising behaviour”, including the build-up of Russian military forces on Ukraine’s borders and in Crimea.

“We reiterate our interest in stable and predictable relations with Russia,” the foreign ministers said.

“We nevertheless will continue to bolster our collective capabilities and those of our partners to address and deter Russian behaviour that is threatening the rules-based international order, including in the areas of cyberspace security and disinformation.”

In the 87-paragraph strong communique, the foreign ministers reiterated their condemnation of the military coup in Myanmar, warning they are ready to take “further steps” if necessary.

On the coronavirus crisis, they committed to working with industry to expand the the production of affordable vaccines, after G7 countries were urged to do more to help poorer countries vaccinate their citizens.

Former prime minister Gordon Brown and World Health Organisation chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus have called on the wealthy nations to step up contributions to the international effort.

Global Covid-19 cases and deaths
(PA Graphics)

Mr Raab has stressed the UK’s commitment to the Covax initiative, which distributes coronavirus jabs to developing nations.

But in a letter to the Foreign Secretary, Mr Brown claimed that the “vaccine gap between the richer and poorer parts of the world is growing by the day”.

India, Australia, South Korea, South Africa, and the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations were invited to join the talks on Wednesday as part of the UK’s tilt to the Indo-Pacific region.

Coronavirus measures in place at the foreign ministers’ meeting at Lancaster House included regular testing and cleaning and clear plastic screens between ministers at the summit table.

The summit meeting, after months of video conference diplomacy, is a key moment for the UK – which also hosts Cop26 this year.

The G7 finance ministers will meet in Lancaster House early next month, followed by the summit of leaders – US president Joe Biden’s first overseas visit – in Cornwall a week later.