When former US President Donald Trump used his elbows at international summits, it was to throw them — on trade, on Russia and, once, they helped him remove the Montenegrin prime minister from his path to a photo-op.
His successor Joe Biden used his elbows differently this week. Arriving to his first global summit, he crooked his arm to extend pandemic-era greetings to a group of leaders who no longer have to tiptoe around a truculent and often angry American president.
Officials attending this week’s Group of 7 summit on the Cornish coast in England are emerging shell-shocked after four years dealing with a US president who often appeared intent on injecting animosity into their gatherings. In front of cameras and behind-the-scenes this weekend, officials said the abrasive interjections and lengthy tangents Trump brought to world summits were absent, replaced by a more businesslike and predictable agenda, including on areas of serious disagreement like China.
Asked alongside Biden on Saturday whether the United States was back, French President Emmanuel Macron answered yes.
“Definitely,” he said, waves crashing in Carbis Bay in the background.
Even the special guest at a Friday night reception took note of the new vibe.
“Are you supposed to be looking as if you’re enjoying yourself?” quipped Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, who later was pictured in friendly conversation with Biden and his wife outside a futuristic biosphere, her son Prince Charles and his wife Camilla clutching drinks in the background.
A more conventional presence: During their first session on Friday afternoon, held in front of a picture window at a seaside resort, the world leaders took turns speaking about efforts to contain the pandemic, according to officials familiar with the talks. Biden, seated between British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Canada’s Justin Trudeau, appeared prepared, according to one European official, describing his administration’s recent purchase of Pfizer doses as a major gesture meant to bring other countries along.
A senior administration official said the first session was meant to highlight areas of agreement. A second session on Saturday proved more divisive as world leaders aired serious differences over how best to approach China.
The disagreements, aired during a session that at one point became so sensitive that all internet was shut off to the room, pitted European nations against the United States, Britain and Canada, who urged stronger action against China for its authoritarian practices, including forced labor practices in western Xinjiang province.
At one point, Biden made a forceful call to other leaders about vocally calling out China’s anti-democratic practices, officials said, emphasizing the need to take action.
Still, though the leaders disagreed, the session was marked by new respect among the leaders after four years of tension under Trump.