The Secretary General of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Angel Gurria made an interesting observation about the G-20 Summit convened in Hangzhou, China by the Chinese government on September 04-05. He pointed out that the world had suffered eight years of crisis and it was of great importance that China, as rotating President of the G-20 major economies, had chosen the focus of the meeting to be on growth recovery.
The summit was participated by the leadership of the G-7, Russia, Brazil, India, South Africa and a number of countries from the rest of the world. The Secretary General of the United Nations, the Presidents of the European Council and the European Commission and the Managing Director of the IMF were also present.
The meeting drew world attention not only because the G-20 countries account for nearly two-third of the world's population, about 80 per cent of its trade and about 85 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP), but also because it was a part of the last visit to Asia by US President Obama (whose term of office ends in about four months). There was, besides, the additional aspect of the new British Prime Minister Theresa May attending an international conference for the first time after her appointment. The world was interested to know how Britain was planning to adjust its economic and social scenario after the impending completion of the Brexit process.
Gurria remarked that the G-20, the premier platform for international economic cooperation, had committed at its 2014 Summit in Australia to achieve 2.0 per cent more growth by 2016 but was "only halfway there". This, he reflected, had become a serious challenge with the world facing high levels of mill closures, unemployment and growing inequality. This assumed particular significance during the Chinese meeting and participants maintained that the way forward lay in innovation to tackle not only lack of growth but also the drop in productivity.
The meeting witnessed a general backlash from European countries and the USA over the principle of globalisation. Most of them reiterated that China had benefited enormously from the current dynamics over the last 25 years while other countries had lost ground.
Aware of this undercurrent, Chinese President Xi Jinping responded by urging those present in the meeting not to indulge in mere "empty talk" but to try and transform G-20 into an "action team". He drew attention of all to the fact that China, after a chaotic start to the year in the equity and currency markets, had scrambled to "assure international investors that China was again on a stable footing". It would be correct to observe here that China has been aided by the US Federal Reserve's decision not to raise interest rates this year. This has helped to stabilise capital outflows from China. Analysts also mentioned that the result of the Brexit campaign had diverted international attention to Europe's political and economic challenges and marginally away from Beijing. Nevertheless, it was generally agreed that coordinated measures need to be adopted to tackle non-tariff barriers and rampant protectionism. There were also references to the need to support industrialisation in Africa and other developing countries, high-end manufacturing and also encouraging youth entrepreneurship.
THE PROBLEM OF CLIMATE CHANGE: The other important event, one day ahead of the formal opening of the G-20 Summit, was United States joining China in formally ratifying the Paris Agreement aimed at curbing climate-warming emissions. Obama and Xi Jinping submitted their plans to join the Agreement to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
China is said to be responsible for over 20 per cent of the emissions and United States for about 17.9 per cent. Russia is responsible for 7.5 per cent of the emissions and India for 4.1 per cent. This joint measure by the United States and China assumes particular significance because their addition brings the total number of countries who have agreed to ratify the Agreement to 25 and also substantially increases coverage of the emissions target. This is important because the total emission of the 23 countries accounted for only 1.08 per cent of total emissions.
It should be remembered that 180 countries have signed the Agreement but to ensure legal effect, 55 nations - covering at least 55 per cent of global emissions (according to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) -are required to formally ratify the Treaty.
India has yet to decide on their final course of action. Hopefully, as a growing industrial giant, they will decide to be part of the evolving process aimed at fighting malicious CO2 emissions.
The problem of climate change has unfortunately become a contentious issue in the matrix of the on-going US Presidential electoral dynamics. US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is a strong supporter of the Climate Accord, but her Republican counterpart Donald Trump has dismissed man-made climate change as a hoax and threatened to abandon the Paris Agreement if elected. It may be mentioned here that countries that have ratified the Paris deal will have to wait for three years after it has gone into legal force before they can begin the process of withdrawing from it. Such uncertainty will only affect the future prospects of vulnerable developing countries like Bangladesh who are in dire need of financial help from developed countries to assist them in mitigating the effects of climate change, effectively adapting to this natural disaster and reducing their vulnerability. Any retraction on the part of major countries like the United States will also affect the possibility of achieving a balance as soon as possible between sources and sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century.
EXCHANGE OF VIEWS ON THE SIDELINES OF THE SUMMIT: President Barack Obama took the opportunity of his presence in the G-20 meeting to embark upon a final bout of delicate overseas diplomacy before his successor is elected in November. This included talks and exchange of views on the sidelines of the meeting.
The most important was his discussion on the current situation in Syria with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Deep divides over Syria have marred Obama's relationship with Putin, adding to a litany of discord between the US and Russia that has driven bilateral relations to their lowest level since the Cold War. Putin's persistent support for the Syrian regime, Moscow's moves in Ukraine and the charge that Russia may be meddling (suspected hacking of US political organizations months ahead of the general election) in the US presidential contest have built a deeply antagonistic dynamic between the two leaders.
Obama and his Russian counterpart Putin met on September 05. The exchange came after talks between US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov held in Geneva failed to result in a Syria ceasefire agreement. It may be recalled that these two Ministers have been working to negotiate a plan that will boost military cooperation between the two nations in an effort to better target terrorists and prevent civilian deaths in that strife-torn country. Later, after their meeting, Obama said that an agreement with Russia on ending the violence in Syria was being hampered by "gaps of trust" between the two governments. Obama urged Kerry and Lavrov to work together in the coming days to get aid to the internally displaced persons in Syria.
A US official revealed that the two Presidents discussed Ukraine and Russia's cyber intrusions.
Obama, in his discussion with the Chinese President is understood to have referred to China's intentions in the South China Sea, its engagement in cyber warfare, its 'controversial' monetary policy and (according to some analysts) of United States concern regarding upholding of human rights in China, including Hong Kong. The Chinese side, according to reports, reiterated their well-known views about their current internal dynamics. At the same time they expressed their willingness to fight terrorism.
This last aspect was particularly emphasised upon during the Chinese President's meeting with Turkish President Erdogan. Both sides agreed to deepen counter-terrorism cooperation and set aside previous disagreements over China's treatment of Turkic-speaking Muslim minority Ughur community in China's western Xinjiang region.
Participating countries and those on the sidelines carefully monitored the inter-active engagement between the two rivals - India and China. There was particular focus because of the deteriorating situation between Pakistan and India over Kashmir. After the talks between President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency quoted Xi as having said that "China is willing to work with India to maintain their hard-won, sound relations, and further advance their cooperation". This was the second meeting between the two leaders in less than three months. The last meeting was on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit held in Tashkent in June this year.
There was a bit of ruffle in the air because of China having opposed the listing of Pakistan-based terrorist organisations in the United Nations list and also because of China stalling India's bid to become a member of the elite Nuclear Suppliers Group. Nevertheless, there was an obvious positive effort on the part of Prime Minister Modi not to upset the Chinese. He did so, given the fact that he will be chairing in October, 2016, in Goa, India, a meeting of BRICS (consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) leaders where President Xi is supposed to be present. The leaders will share their views on "Building Responsive, Inclusive and Collective Solutions" to the issues highlighted during the G-20 talks and the subsequently ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) in their meeting in Laos (convened immediately after the G-20 Summit).
Modi, it may be noted, wants this BRICS session to be a success and is accordingly considering including countries belonging to BIMSTEC (Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal) in the conference.
THE PLIGHT OF MIGRANTS: This evaluation from the sidelines would not be complete without reference to the general concern expressed in the G-20 conference about the plight of migrants and those undertaking migratory efforts to reach the perceived safety of Europe from different parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Both European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Juncker underlined that G-7 countries need to meaningfully share the migrant burden, help control and also assist in arranging the relief and rehabilitation of these migrants attempting to enter Europe. It may be mentioned that this matter has now gained a political dimension and is beginning to influence domestic European politics in France, Italy, Austria and Germany. This concern was received with care by the developed countries attending the meeting.
In conclusion, one needs to congratulate China not only for their serious effort but also for drawing attention to the fact that the members of the G-20 will have to stop viewing their association as a talking club where they can just exchange ideas and not find solutions to existing challenges - protectionism, assuring green finance and reviving of growth engines of international trade and investment.
The writer, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.