Hangzhou: the world’s top leaders are set to discuss the state of the global economy at this weekend’s G-20 summit here, geopolitics, bilateral issues and growing threat of terrorism have cast a shadow over the gathering while host China is keen on avoiding any references to the simmering South China Sea dispute.
The meeting is set to take place in this picturesque eastern city on September 4 and 5 at a time when a series of terror attacks in many European countries claimed by ISIS have threatened the international peace and security.
For China, the summit comes at a time when it is waging a grim battle to minimise the impact of an international tribunal’s ruling which quashed its expansive claims on the South China Sea (SCS), besides tensions in its ties with India, Japan, Britain and the US. China’s irritation with the “S” word is palpable.
“The South China Sea issue has nothing to do with this summit,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying had said in a media briefing recently when asked whether the issue would figure at the meeting.
“I am not sure why you asked this question. It is known to all that the G20 Summit is supposed to focus on how to inject vitality and impetus to world economic development serving as a platform prioritising and improving global economic governance,” she said.
While the summit is a challenge to China’s diplomacy with its top diplomats tiptoeing around the ‘S’ issue, to ensure that it does not figure in the joint statement, officials say the big focus will remain on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s bilateral meetings with the leaders of the cream of the G20 group including with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the summit.
Modi who is scheduled to arrive on September 3 will stay in the city for about 48 hours, an Indian diplomat said.
Details of his meeting with Xi on the sidelines is still being worked out.
Chinese officials say besides Modi, it will be a big line up of bilateral meets for Xi including with US President Barack Obama, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his British counterpart Theresa May, each riddled with tense issues.
Officials say most of the meetings are still being worked out.
Modi and Xi have met several times and they enjoy a friendly rapport but this time the meeting is taking place at a time when the “Pakistan factor” is felt on Sino-Indian ties. From terrorism, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to USD 46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Balochistan, the bilateral ties took considerable beating.
Officials on both sides admit that a more free and frank exchanges between the two leaders could smoothen the rough edges.
Xi and Modi will also have an opportunity to meet again in Goa next year during the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit.
“So they may carry forward their talks to the next meeting,” an official said.
For Obama, this will be his last tour to Asia as he is set to relinquish after two terms. But his meeting with Xi is taking place in the backdrop of July verdict of the South China Sea and Washington’s stand that the judgement, though rejected by China, is legal and to be implemented.
China’s claim over almost all of SCS is contested by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
They enjoy the backing of the US.
Beijing is emphasising that Washington should peg down tensions over the SCS and is also trying to persuade the US not to go ahead with its plans to deploy Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) in South Korea as it considers them a security risk in view of their radars powerful ability to monitor deep into China.
The tensions between Japan and China over disputed islands in the East China’s Sea and Beijing’s ire over Tokyo wading into the SCS besides their strategic competition around the world remained a source of friction reflecting in Xi, Abe meetings.
Xi will also be meeting new British Prime Minister May but again China is very upset about her government’s move to halt the USD 24 billion Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant agreed to by her predecessor David Cameron.
Reports from London said the May government explained the delay saying that it needed time to consider all components of the deal. But speculation is rife that concerns over Chinese investments was at the heart of the reassessment.
For its part, the Chinese official media has been saying that the focus of the G20 summit will serve as a vital platform for reversing the trend of trade protectionism and giving new impetus to global trade growth.
The G20 summit comes at a time when the growth of global trade is lower than that of the global gross domestic product (GDP), which is “indeed rare”, Zhang Yuyan, director of the Institute of World Economics and Politics of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences told state-run Xinhua news agency.
Protectionism, as it often does at times of sluggish economic growth, is on the rise.
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) in June this year urged the G20 economies to dismantle anti-trade measures, 1,583 of which have been erected at an all-time-high pace, while just 387 have been removed since 2008, a Xinhua commentary said.
Since taking the rotating G20 presidency at the end of last year, China has done “considerable amount of work,” Zhang said, citing the initiation of the G20 trade and investment working group and the institutionalisation of the G20 trade ministers meeting.
These efforts are believed to be a good beginning for the upcoming summit, he said.
The G-20 includes Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the UK, the US and the European Union.