Rising Powers Converge in China for G-20 Summit
From September 4-5, China hosted this year’s G-20 Summit in Hangzhou, a city known for beautiful scenery and its historical West Lake. Launched in response to the 2008 global recession, the forum was an opportunity for the world’s 20 largest economies to convene and discuss major challenges. Although commentary in China and Russia was quite positive about the Summit’s results, others in India, Japan, and South Korea were less enthusiastic. The gathering was also part of Barack Obama’s last trip to Asia as president and was closely watched by rising powers for signs of what the future might have in store for the international political and economic order. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from China, Russia, India, Brazil, Japan, and South Korea on the G-20 Summit.
China’s theme for the Summit was “Toward an Innovative, Invigorated, Interconnected and Inclusive World Economy.” As the host leader, Chinese President Xi Jinping urged leaders to avoid “empty talk” and instead seek “concrete actions to implement joint plans on sustainable development, green financing, and anti-corruption.” At a business focused event on the sidelines of the Summit, Xi promised China does “not seek to rewrite the international rulebooks” but instead wanted to “refine the existing mechanisms to facilitate global win-win cooperation.”
Most commentary in China hailed the Summit as a success and a clear sign of China’s rising economic and political strength on the world stage.
- Wang Peng, associate researcher at Fudan University, identified a “Hangzhou Consensus” emerge from the Summit with leaders recognizing the need to “revitalize globalization” in a “more comprehensive, innovative, and inclusive manner.”
- China Daily thought the host country left “its stamp on the G-20” by demonstrating “unswerving commitment to globalization,” expanding the existing global market system, fighting off protectionism, and aligning the G-20 agenda with UN development goals.
- Global Times declared “multiple victories” for China at the Summit, including recognition of Chinese soft power in spite of Western criticisms.
- Global Times blamed Western media outlets for making a “fuss over trifling issues” such as an awkward confrontation between Chinese officials and U.S. journalists/White House staff as Air Force One arrived in China.
- China Daily praised Hangzhou’s tour as host city and proving “how China has become a leader of growth, as the city is home to many new businesses and new management models.”
Others explored the specific topics on the G-20 Summit agenda.
- On the eve of the Summit, the United States and China ratified their commitments to reduce climate change enshrined in last year’s Paris Agreement, demonstrating what Xi said was a “shared ambition and resolve” to solve global problems.
- Mei Xinyu, researcher at the International Trade and Economic Cooperation Institute, urged China to be a “flag-bearer for free trade.” Likewise, Commerce Ministry scholar Xu Man compelled “all countries” – not just China – to “work together to cut steel overcapacity.”
- Chen Xiangyang, senior researcher at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, asserted the BRICS as the key players in improving global governance.
- Li Xing, professor at Beijing Normal University, stated “common ground should be the foundation of great power relations” and warned Washington against moving to “squeeze the strategic space of China and Russia” in the South China Sea, missile defense, Ukraine, and Syria.
In contrast to President Obama’s lukewarm welcome in Hangzhou, Deputy Foreign Minister Li Baodung said Russia was to be given preferential treatment at the Summit because China considered Russia and itself as the “main engines of the global economy.” Russian President Vladimir Putin was on hand at the event to seek measures to boost Russia’s economic growth and end hostilities over Ukraine and Syria. On the sidelines, Obama and Putin failed to reach a peace settlement over the on-going civil war in Syria, but a temporary ceasefire was reached several days after the Summit.
Many commentators praised China and Russia for a successful Summit despite what they called Western attempts to disrupt the gathering.
- After the Summit, Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the State Duma’s international committee, foresaw “an absolutely obvious end to any attempts to isolate Russia” and a near end to economic sanctions against Russia put in place after crises in Ukraine.
- Vyacheslav Kholodkov, head of International Economic Organizations Department at Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, saw China’s economic success at G-20 as a “thorn on the side of many Western politicians and journalists, because it shows that there are other more successful models besides the Western liberal economic model.”
- In Russia Today, journalist Dmitry Babich contrasted the Western media’s attention to “distractions” and “controversies” in Hangzhou while Chinese and Russia sources saw genuine cooperation on ways to “modernize the regime of international trade.”
- Dmitry Kosyrev, political analyst with RIA Novosti, favored Beijing’s concept of “a peaceful rise of China” that aims to influence world events through its economic strength rather than “aggression and pressure.”
- Anthony Rinna, Eurasia analyst at SinoNK, expected Russia to continue its economic focus on both Asia and Latin America in its G-20 agenda.
- Vasily Koltashov, left-leaning Russian economist, warned the United States was uninterested in the economic success of BRIC countries and is abandoning free trade principles in favor of protectionism against Chinese and Russian steel exports.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the Summit and urged leaders to eliminate “safe havens for economic offenders, track down and unconditionally extradite money launderers and break down the web” of bank secrecy and corruption. Modi also pressed the Summit to take a hard stance against international terrorism, calling out Pakistan as the “one single nation in South Asia” spreading terror in the region.
Across the political spectrum in India, many commentators expressed disappointment with the Hangzhou Summit and the G-20 forum as a tool to advance a common agenda.
- The Indian Express doubted there was a real consensus in Hangzhou over “what rules should guide a world in which the structure of power is changing rapidly.” The opposition Congress Party leaning newspaper also disagreed with what it characterized as Modi’s strategy to resolve this global uncertainty by allying with Washington, because India needs to “claw out what can be had from an iniquitous global order, not imagine what it can piggy-back on allies and friends.”
- G-20 Summits have “degenerated into a publicity opportunity for divergent national concerns” and “lacking in substance,” according to The Hindu. The left-leaning paper asked whether the group has “lost its way, outlived its usefulness?”
- Despite support for Xi Jinping’s “call to end protectionism and build a more open global economy,” The Times of India saw a “challenging” road ahead with leaders unable or unwilling to overcome resistance from “electoral politics or entrenched positions.”
- Sanjiv Shankaran, journalist with The Times of India, doubted whether the “Hangzhou Consensus” would hold without a clear international crisis to motivate countries. Economic Times expressed a similar view.
- Journalist Rudroneel Ghosh thought China was “too constrained by its own strategic imperatives and national interests” to advance a consensus economic agenda, referencing U.S.-China South China Sea disputes and the scene when Air Force One arrived.
Others commented on India’s efforts on combating climate change and terrorism.
- The Hindu welcomed China, the United States, and India joining other G-20 countries “to commit itself to addressing climate change through domestic policy measures” but warned “for that to happen, the Centre must initiate a serious discussion with the States.”
- Economic Times stressed India would not renege on its commitments, but needs time for the Cabinet to approve the accord with due process. Business Standard
- Hindustan Times was frustrated with India’s continued need to “de-hyphenate” India from Pakistan in U.S. policy, but the centrist paper urged Modi to stop putting counter-terrorism on the global agenda as it forever links India with Pakistan.
- On the other hand, ruling party BJP leaning The Pioneer wanted the G-20 Summit and Communiqué to refocus efforts against terrorism and its threat to “human security globally.”
Brazilian media coverage of the G-20 Summit in Hangzhou was largely focused on how the event served as the first international initiative of the newly installed government of President Michel Temer following the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff. Although the new Brazilian government was not prepared to launch novel initiatives at the summit, Temer concluded “the Summit was very productive from every angle, especially with respect to the many compliments said about Brazil.”
There was little geopolitical analysis of the meeting or efforts to address global economic stagnation. Rather, most of the press coverage fixated on Temer’s participation.
- O Globo suggested the Summit served as Temer’s inauguration party after the final impeachment vote of former President Dilma Rousseff on August 31. While President Temer was satisfied to conclude the impeachment process, the uncertainty led to reduced Brazilian participation in Summit planning.
- Evandro Menezes de Carvalho, professor at Fundação Getúlio Vargas, argued the Chinese government was hesitant to work closely with the new Brazilian government due to the impeachment process and Temer’s interests in improving relations with Washington.
- Despite these concerns, Temer and Xi discussed a series of pending Brazilian interests, including the sale of Brazilian aircraft, beef, chicken, pork, and soy based products in China.
Other media outlets addressed Brazil’s commercial interests in China and the broader G-20 agenda.
- Folha de São Paulo reported Chinese President Xi’s final remarks pointing to the need for greater efforts to unlock global economic growth in the medium and long term.
- In the aftermath of Brexit, Diário do Nordeste reported there is growing anxiety around the world that protectionism will drag down global growth. Temer’s mission in Hangzhou was to assert Brazilian commercial interests in China, a goal the paper concluded was unmet.
With Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attending the event, Japan announced its plans to pursue domestic economic reform, including some on long working practices and equal pay for equal work, linking G-20 goals to the realization of Abenomics. Abe and Xi met on the sidelines of the Summit to ease tensions that have arisen from maritime disputes, though Beijing warned Tokyo it would not tolerate “excessive” criticism on these issues during the official proceedings.
As might be expected, much of the commentary in Japanese media focused on China.
- With too many vague promises of cooperation and too little concrete plans, The Japan Times questioned whether the Summit was a success. The paper worried that “now that the summit is over,” Beijing “can pursue its South China Sea agenda without risking embarrassment at its Hangzhou meeting.” Mainichi put forward a similar view.
- Many of the challenges raised at the G-20 forum stem from China, wrote Asahi Shimbun. Weak economic growth and inexpensive Chinese steel flooding international markets mean Beijing must “implement economic and social policy measures to achieve the goal while acting on the awareness of its responsibility as a leading world power.”
- Yomiuri Shimbun had reservations about China upholding promises made at the Summit, offering the country’s cheap steel exports and disputed South China Sea claims as evidence. “If China remains indifferent to regional stability,” the paper concluded, “it is doubtful whether the country will fulfill its commitment to economic cooperation, too.”
- The Japan Times regretted talks between Xi and Abe “failed to produce concrete steps for reducing tensions” between China and Japan in the maritime domain. The paper, along with Mainichi, urged stronger dispute resolution mechanisms and crisis communication systems as first steps toward broader cooperation on these issues.
President Park Geun-hye arrived in Hangzhou with plans to tout her country’s economy as a “model” for “inclusive innovation,” but North Korean missile tests during the event and a nuclear device test later in the week overshadowed the country’s attention on the G-20.
Focus in the media turned then to China’s public resistance at the G-20 to South Korea’s THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missile defense plans and its unwillingness to apply serious pressure on Pyongyang.
- Korea JoongAng Daily took comfort that leaders “signaled a good understanding of what’s holding back” the world economy but questioned whether any real action would take place on these goals without a global crisis to “focus minds and secure the cooperation of national politicians.”
- The Korea Times correspondent Tong Kim wanted the meeting to be an opportunity to “alleviate the increasingly perilous situation on the Korean Peninsula.”
- The Dong-A Ilbo accused Xi of hypocrisy in calling for an end to Cold War thinking while refusing to acknowledge how China “disregards the sovereignty of its neighboring nations” by pressuring South Korea to abandon its THAAD designs and making controversial claims in the South China Sea. The Korea Herald echoed this sentiment and insisted China do more to curb North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.