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China's G20 will be a tough juggling act

By Shada Islam | China Daily Europe | Updated: 2015-11-15 13:04

Presidency offers beijing a golden opportunity to demonstrate its coming of age as a global power

The world will be watching closely when China takes over the G20 presidency from Turkey on Dec 1. China is already in the global spotlight, but Beijing can expect heightened international scrutiny and interest in the year ahead.

The G20 role gives China an important opportunity to polish its credentials as a global diplomat, political actor and economic leader. If Beijing plays its cards right, the G20 presidency could give a strong boost to China's international standing and ability to take on a global, proactive and responsible leadership role.

Chinese policymakers will also have to make sure they get domestic policies right by continuing to work on national economic transformation, including the switch from exports to consumer-driven growth, and implementation of the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20).

It will be a juggling act and, at times, it will be uncomfortable. Holding the presidency, China will have to lead, consult and coordinate a motley and often discordant group of advanced and emerging nations that do not always see eye to eye.

The job means having to stay on course to implement past commitments, push forward on issues that are still pending, and react to new and often unpredictable global developments.

Progress on the G20's traditional "strong, sustainable and balanced growth" agenda with its focus on investment, trade and employment will not be easy. With growth slowing in many countries, and China's stellar growth figures being lowered, the G20 is unlikely to deliver on its promise to lift the group's GDP by 2 percent by 2018.

Governance issues remain a top G20 priority, including reform of the International Monetary Fund. China will be working to have the renminbi included in the IMF's Special Drawing Rights basket. In addition, the G20 will be expected to hammer out a roadmap for implementing Agenda 2030 and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals adopted in September.

Expectations will be high that the G20 can press ahead on fighting global warming and preventing environmental degradation. The G20's agreed "principles on energy, governance and collaboration" will be on the table.

Despite repeated commitments to maintaining the multilateral trading system, G20 commitments on trade have failed to inject new life into the World Trade Organization. China could change this by paying more attention to the multilateral trading system.

Increasingly, the G20 is about more than economics.

Cooperation and collaboration will also be the order of the day in tackling global political and security challenges. This will require close contact with the United States, Europe and emerging nations, but also with Japan, which will take on the presidency of the G7.

Recent Chinese projects such as the Belt and Road Initiative, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the New Development Bank (BRICS Bank) certainly herald the emergence of an innovative and more self-confident economic actor, both within the region and outside it.

Beijing's push to get a quick deal on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement further reinforces China's economic outreach.

As G20 leader, China can win kudos by seeking synergies between the Belt and Road and AIIB and other initiatives such as the World Bank's Global Infrastructure Facility, the G20's Global Infrastructure Initiative and similar programs drawn up by the Asian Development Bank and the Japanese government.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership could be used to help better regionalize Asia's global production networks and reduce the complex overlap among Asian free trade agreements.

International views on Chinese diplomacy are mixed.

Despite President Xi Jinping's recent visit to Washington, Sino-American competition and rivalry, including in the South China Sea, are on the rise. Recent meetings between China, Japan and South Korea have helped ease tensions, but relations between Asia's economic giants have to be put on a more solid footing.

While President Xi's meeting with the Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou has eased concerns over cross-Straits relations, the elections in January could reverse the trend. Meanwhile, maritime disputes in the South China Sea between China and Vietnam and China and the Philippines are affecting Beijing's broader relationship with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The G20 format, with its numerous meetings and gatherings, could allow Beijing to build a more intense network of economic and diplomatic ties with its neighbors and key partners. Working more closely together on a range of issues should lead to a better understanding of different countries' interests and priorities, possibly helping to ease some of the recent strains in relations with Asian countries.

China's global reputation stands to benefit even more. A Chinese-led G20 that is ready and willing to reflect on issues such as the worsening refugee crisis, financing for Agenda 2030 on sustainable development, infrastructure development and climate change, for instance, would give a much-needed wake-up call to the global community.

The G20 may not be the "steering committee" of the world economy, as many thought it would become, but it still offers China a golden opportunity to demonstrate its coming of age as a global power.

The author is policy director of Friends of Europe, based in Brussels.

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