Behind-the-scenes talks key to meaningful G20 achievement

The summit is a melting pot of different economic environments, agendas and ways of doing things. That is why pre-summit multi- and bilateral negotiations are important

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 September, 2016, 1:35am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 September, 2016, 1:35am

China may be the world’s second-largest economy and the driver of global growth in the 21st century, but tomorrow will be the first time it has hosted a leaders’ summit of the Group of 20 major economies, arguably the most influential international forum. It will also be the most significant gathering of world leaders in the country’s history and Beijing has ordered stringent security to ensure it runs smoothly.

Chinese leaders see it as an opportunity to stake their claim for greater influence in global governance, since the G20 not only represents more than 80 per cent of the world economy, but includes developing countries that Beijing counts as friends.

The groundwork has already been laid in pre-summit meetings of officials. One important, overarching decision to be affirmed by the summit is recommitment to the goal set in 2014 of raising GDP in the G20 by 2 per cent by 2018. With a rise of 1 per cent since then, the group is on target.

The group is a democratic enlargement of the G8 group of major industrial nations to take in major emerging economies. It is therefore a melting pot of different economic environments, agendas and ways of doing things, at risk of sounding like a talking shop. That is why pre-summit multi- and bilateral negotiations are important, as shown by talks on cooperation against corruption and further progress in Sino-US efforts to combat climate change.

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This kind of unglamorous consensus-building behind the scenes takes time, but China is convinced it is the right way to build a platform for meaningful achievement. For example, key to the GDP goal is agreement at a meeting in Chengdu in July on a set of indicators to monitor progress on promised structural reforms, which could identify laggard nations on the global stage.

This is important to Beijing’s extensive domestic reform agenda, which has to overcome bureaucratic resistance and opposition from vested interests. External pressure for restructuring will be a strong incentive to drive change and could help China’s leaders push through reform.

It is not possible to have 20 world leaders in the one place without an intensive round of closely watched bilateral meetings on the sidelines which can help reduce tensions and pave the way for progress at the summit. Globally all eyes will be on presidents Xi Jinping, Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin and, regionally, on whether Xi meets Shinzo Abe after the Japanese prime minister sent a personal envoy to Beijing ahead of the summit.