Chairing the G20 offers China a unique opportunity to promote its domestic development agenda and shape global economic governance, from the head of one of the most exclusive tables of wealthy nations.
As the world’s second largest economy, its biggest exporter, potentially its largest investor, and – above all – the most powerful driver of global growth, China has every reason to lead on the global stage.
And the Hangzhou summit, the most significant gathering of world leaders in China’s history, is the perfect platform for China to seek to expand its clout, and weaken US-led Western dominance of global affairs. It is where developed and developing countries are equal partners and thus their voices equally heard.
Beijing will use its presidency of the meeting to oppose anti-trade and anti-globalisation sentiment. That will please all in attendance, and is vital to the Chinese economy and global growth.
No country has benefitted more from economic globalisation than China. Its growth over the past three decades has been largely driven by foreign direct investment and exports. Beijing’s increasingly loud calls for globalisation come amid the strange revival of trade protectionism and populism in some developed economies, as evidenced by the Brexit vote in the UK, Donald Trump’s rhetoric in the US, the possible rise of far-right Marine Le Pen in France and the diminishing popularity of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s pro-EU narrative.
Against such a backdrop, the embrace of a more compassionate global capitalism by the world’s biggest economies might help check the trend.
China itself has become the victim of such protectionism.
Its drive to become a major player in the global market suffered two major setbacks in less than a month recently, as Britain and Australia rejected Chinese investment in major infrastructure projects, citing security concerns.
Most emerging economies are likely to support China’s wider global role and its initiatives. And China’s major trade partners in the West are also keen to forge deeper business engagement, seeing the country as a source for growth amid a stubborn global slowdown.
But while China plays a crucial and positive role in promoting global growth, it is also a potential source of global instability and further economic and financial crises. That is if the communist leadership fails to push badly-needed reform of its state-dominated economy and corruption-racked political system.
And while most nations welcome China’s economic rise, manyalso worry about its increasingly authoritarian ruleand its military assertiveness in the region.
They don’t want to see a return to cold war-style divisions.
Thus the summit might be overshadowed byissues like territory, human rights and regional and global security, in which China is still at odds with the US-led West and many of its neighbours.
As the summit is supposed to focus on trade, China’s ultimate triumph will be determined not only on whether it can unite leaders on economics.
We also have to see whether it can avoid any distraction from embarrassing issues on politics, diplomacy and security, which divide China and a US-led regional and global alliance.
Cary Huang, a senior writer with the South China Morning Post, has been a senior editor and China affairs columnist since the early 1990s