The G-20’s Display of Irrelevance
The G-20’s Display of Irrelevance

The Hangzhou G-20 Summit is over; it ended with a substantive whimper after more than enough media splashes to fill a swimming pool.

The G-20 or “Group of Twenty” was assembled in 1999 as the successor of multiple efforts to create a mechanism to coordinate international economic policy. The “20” consist of 19 countries and the European Union.

There was and continues to be considerable debate over the composition of the membership, which are supposedly the most economically important countries. Such doesn’t happen to be the case as, except for the most obvious large economies (United States, China, Russia, Germany, U.K., France, India, Japan, South Korea), a number of powerful economies are not represented (Switzerland) and others only through the EU (Netherlands).

There are also several permanent guest invitees, for example, Spain (the 14th largest economy) and major politico-economic actors inter alia the International Monetary Fund, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United Nations, and the World Trade Organization.

The G-20’s final communiqué at nine pages and 7,000 words was described as ‘anodyne’ and ‘offering few insights.’

The G-20’s final communiqué at nine pages and 7,000 words was described as “anodyne” and “offering few insights.” At best, one observer noted that it “reflected the increasingly complex and technical language of G-20 officials. Combined with its lack of concrete and measurable actions, the communiqué provides a clear signal that G-20 leaders gained little collective ground during the summit.”

There were vague commitments such as to deliver more inclusive economic growth through coordinated macroeconomic policy, open trade, and innovation. In short, to “make globalization work for the benefit of all,” as summarized by one observer.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (C) with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (2nd L), Brazil's President Michel Temer (L), Russian President Vladimir Putin (2nd R), and South Africa's President Jacob Zuma (R) at the West Lake State Guest House in Hangzhou, China, on Sept. 4, 2016. (Wang Zhou/Getty Images)
Chinese Chairman Xi Jinping (C) with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (2nd L), Brazil’s President Michel Temer (L), Russian President Vladimir Putin (2nd R), and South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma (R) at the West Lake State Guest House in Hangzhou, China, on Sept. 4, 2016. (Wang Zhou/Getty Images)

But its failure to address the proximate issues of the day was more telling: climate change/energy; a coordinated response to the Syria crisis; refugees and migration; terrorism; territorial and navigation challenges in the South China Sea. All went unremarked.

Nor was there any public intimation that anyone raised China’s continued egregious human rights violations, including but hardly limited to organ harvesting from hapless victims, including religious minorities such as Falun Gong and Christian practitioners. And if any leaders pressed Communist Party head Xi Jinping in private, any such action remained private.

To be sure, the meeting was a success. Indeed, high-level meetings of this nature involving national leaders are condemned to “success.” And simply the opportunity to have “corridor ‘pull asides'” and take the measure of other leaders face-to-face can be invaluable.

If there is a winner from the meeting it is China and Chairman Xi Jinping. Just by holding the conference in Hangzhou with the opportunity for presenting it with the lavish excess that is the norm for Chinese extravaganzas, Beijing gained in global stature.

Xi also invited a wider range of third-world observers—again an astute move that will garner diplomatic brownie points among the developing nations.

And, depending on whether one considers it deliberate or inadvertent, China left the impression of having adroitly “dissed” President Obama by not providing appropriate protocol support (rolling stairs for the president to exit Air Force One; red carpet).

All was papered over, including shouting matches between Chinese protocol officials and U.S. officials and media over proximity to the president. But the global image was that in the one-upmanship, China had slam-dunked us.

President Barack Obama speaks to media after the G20 Summit closing at JW Marriott Hotel in Hangzhou, China, on Sept. 5, 2016. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama speaks to media after the G-20 Summit closing at JW Marriott Hotel in Hangzhou, China, on Sept. 5, 2016. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Nor did we make any defining substantive progress in private sessions before or during the meeting. The much-bruited about Obama–Xi signing of the U.N. Paris climate accord is an empty shell regarding any real commitments to reduction in carbon emissions. Specifics are not; objectives fade into the never/never future.

And Obama’s session with Russian President Putin was described as “candid, blunt, and businesslike,” with a “lack of trust” preventing agreement on a Syria truce. Apparently, Obama did not raise the evidence that Russian hackers have penetrated U.S. political party internet communication.

The impression of feckless failure was reinforced when the semi-maniacal Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte managed to take prospective umbrage by saying that the United States had no historical standing to criticize his human rights actions.

Moreover, Obama was a “son of a bitch” (or “son of a whore”) depending on the Tagalog translation. Obama canceled the scheduled meeting, and Duterte delivered the standard nonapology, but it is telling that Duterte didn’t think that an insult would have consequences. Nobody is offering comparable insult to Russian President Putin.

Putin, however, gets credit for the most clever gift. He provided Xi with a container of Russian ice cream after Chinese officials in an earlier meeting had mentioned it was a special favorite but unavailable in China. Apparently, Russian cows produce creamier cream.

David T. Jones

David T. Jones is a retired U.S. State Department senior foreign service career officer who has published several hundred books, articles, columns, and reviews on U.S.–Canadian bilateral issues and general foreign policy. During a career that spanned over 30 years, he concentrated on politico-military issues, serving as adviser for two Army chiefs of staff. Among his books is “Alternative North Americas: What Canada and the United States Can Learn From Each Other.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Epoch Times.

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