Implications of the G20 Summit for global governance and US-China relations

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Topics: International Politics

Reflecting on last weekend’s G20 Summit in Buenos Aires, three experts from the Beijing-based think tank the Taihe Institute, shared their views with DOC on the Summit, global governance, and US-China relations.

According to Senior Researcher at the Taihe Institute, Yifan DING, this year’s G20 Summit had some positive results, as shown in the Final Declaration of the G20. It’s important to keep in mind that this year’s G7 and APEC meetings ended without a final declaration, due largely to certain countries’ disagreement with the decisions taken. The change of attitude of the G20 in Argentina demonstrated that no country in today’s world is completely immune to the sometimes rapid and drastic shifts in global politics and economic relations. The trade tensions between the US and the rest of the world is of course escalating, as is more than obvious regarding President Trump’s tariff ‘war’. This is raising a lot of concerns in US stock markets, and “the plummet of high-tech companies’ share prices gave a clear warning to those falcons of the ‘trade war’”, said Ding. “If the trade tensions continue to rise, the so-called ‘strong’ American economy will soon plunge into a deep crisis”.

Apart from the US, other members of the G20 committed themselves to reducing carbon emissions, in order to keep in pace with the agenda of Paris agreement on climate change. “That could somehow alleviate the pressure of climate change, and create new incentives for renewable energy development”, Ding told DOC.

Digitalisation and economic development were also of top priority during this year’s G20 Summit, continued Ding. What are the impacts of artificial intelligence development on different economies? Different sectors and economies will be affected by the implementation of AI technology, and massive unemployment might be an unintentional result of this trend. That is, if appropriate measures are not taken in advance to prepare labour forces for an entirely new landscape regarding the future of work. In this regard, Ding argued, too many problems were not addressed during the Summit to result in substantive improvements.

In Ding’s view, the fact that the G20 is still an important mechanism of international cooperation ensures that, despite the sluggish global economic recovery and the return of protectionism in some parts of the world, major powers will not be tempted to make up different alliances with each other. Mature, developed economies and emerging economies still have this critical platform to exchange views on the most important global issues, and try to find ways to deal with difficult issues in a spirit of cooperation.

The meeting between President Trump and President Xi was critical, especially at a time when US-China relations seem to be in free-fall, according to Ding’s colleague, Senior Researcher Changlin GUO. While no one expected every problem to be solved between the two countries, but at least there was dialogue. Guo told DOC that “one thing I have been watching with anxiety is whether the Trump Administration is responding to [China’s] call to ‘sit down and talk’. The two leaders met, sat down and talked. I don’t think it is a talk the talk game, and they are going to walk the walk. So, the meeting is encouraging to me, and it’s a step forward”.

Guo is optimistic that a truce came out of the Xi-Trump meeting, and says that it shows the prospect of an actual trade deal between the two countries: “…a truce is a truce, not a deal. It is a framework, and it expressed both sides’ political willingness to reach a deal”, said Guo. A truce was an appropriate step at this stage, very timely for the two countries’ deteriorating relationship. One cannot ignore importance of ‘strategic patience’ during the 90 days of negotiations to follow. It could set back any progress made during the G20 Summit if either side “tries to squeeze too many specifics from the truce agreement”.

Guo believes that both sides want a deal, especially because of international pressure on the US and China to work out a deal to steer the world economy out of a looming crisis. “It is not a bilateral issue, rather it has multilateral implications. We will be blamed for failure to reach a deal, and our image as responsible power will be damaged among nations in the world. China doesn’t want to be seen as that”, said Guo.

The likelihood of a deal will certainly help manage the tense relationship between China and the US, but it will not change the competitive nature of the relationship. Guo believes “this will be the ‘new normal’” regarding relations between the two countries.

Senior Researcher Liru Cui’s overall impression of the G20 Summit is that, based on the Final Declaration, leaders reached some general agreements including cooperation in economics and climate change. However, from his perspective, “the declaration also has quite an obvious limitation, because it’s always easy to say the same word but far more difficult to act in the same way. The reality is, different countries still have their own different interests, different policies, using different ways [to reach] different targets”. The imbalances created by globalisation has led the international political economy into a period of adjustment, Cui continued. In this context, all the countries are adjusting and positioning themselves based on their interests. Given this, G20 summits have a positive impact, providing “a platform for communication and reaching agreements but it also has negative side”, in its inability to always transfer those agreements into action, and this needs to be considered, Cui told DOC.

There also remains the question of how to solve global imbalances, especially regarding the world’s poorest countries and populations. Cui argued that this issue isn’t only up to international economic systems and markets to solve, but is also the responsibility of individual countries to address themselves. “Logically speaking, countries’ own actions to modify themselves are related to the formal coordination of the whole world. However, when it comes to conflict, the first [step] is to focus on [their domestic actions and policies]. This is the situation that the G20 is facing”.

The G20 needs to recognise its limitations and think about how to follow up with action plans after the declaration. Cui said that “Argentina absolutely did very well this year. It has made a lot of efforts. The United States, which used to play a leading role, is now [acting unilaterally]”. US policy isn’t conducive to common actions. It is therefore understandable that countries are addressing the current global environment bilaterally or multilaterally, through different approaches including regional approaches or other cooperative approaches. Cui was keen to point out that realising a workable and sustainable global governance architecture will continue for some time, as it is a long process. “If we want G20 to be more productive, we still need a long way to go, step by step, brick by brick”.

About the experts:

DING Yifan is a, economist and Senior Researcher at the Taihe Institute. He is also former Permanent Vice-Director of World Development Institute of Development Research Center of the State Council.

An expert in international affairs, GUO Changlin is currently a Senior Researcher at the Taihe Institute and Doctoral Supervisor at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. He formerly worked for the Chinese Mission to the United Nations in New York, as well as other multiple UN organisations.

CUI Liru is a Senior Researcher at the Taihe Institute, PhD Supervisor in American Politics and Diplomacy at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, and former President and Senior Consultant at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. He is a well-known expert in the field of International Relations.