Hangzhou G20: China determined to keep summit focus on economy
South China Sea disputes are off Beijing’s agenda but the issues are likely to crop up at bilateral talks
China aims to keep the focus of next month’s G20 summit in Hangzhou on global economic growth rather than issues like the South China Sea disputes, officials in Beijing said on Monday.
Foreign vice-minister Li Baodong stressed that Beijing was also keen to keep the focus off other contentious issues, such as South Korea’s plans to deploy a US-backed advanced anti-missile system, when leaders of the world’s 20 major economies met in the capital city of Zhejiang province on September 4-5.
Asked about territorial disputes in the South China Sea,
Li said the consensus among members was to “focus on economic development and not be distracted by other parties” .
“The Hangzhou summit must focus on economic issues,” Li said. “This is what people want to talk about most at the summit.”
Beijing was furious when the Philippines, backed by the United States, applied in 2013 to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague for a ruling on claims to contested waters in the South China Sea.
The international tribunal rejected Beijing’s “nine-dash” line claim to much of the waters on July 12 but China has ignored the ruling.
Though China would try to exclude the divisive topics from the summit agenda during its presidency, the subjects were expected to be broached in President Xi Jinping’s bilateral meetings with his counterparts from G20 members such as the US, Japan, Australia and European Union, diplomatic observers said.
Renmin University foreign relations specialist Shi Yinhong said the South China Sea issues were dominated by conflict, confrontation and friction, which did not dovetail with China’s hopes to burnish its international reputation through the G20. “[But] it is impossible to prevent all the top leaders from discussing” the territorial disputes, Shi said.
Beijing has long opposed discussing South China Sea disputes at multilateral forums. In May, China responded angrily when the subject was raised during a G7 summit in Japan.
Professor Pang Zhongying, from Renmin University’s School of International Relations, said that if the topic was raised, it would have a negative effect on bilateral relations.
To help keep the focus on the economy, Beijing said it would propose a joint initiative to revive weak global growth.
Finance vice-minister Zhu Guangyao said details of the proposal were still being worked out, but it would stress “inclusive growth” to spread economic benefits widely and shore up support for free trade.
Governments should be on “high alert” for anti-globalisation sentiment, Zhu said.
“If the people cannot feel the benefits, then this sort of development cannot truly improve people’s lives, and people will have mixed feelings about such developments,” Zhu said.