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President Xi Jinping's Priorities for the G20's Hangzhou Summit

John Kirton, Co-director, G20 Research Group
August 30, 2016

As the 11th G20 summit approaches its start in Hangzhou, China, this week, many are wondering just what it will do.

Thus far at important intervals the Chinese host has admirably offered a detailed account of the summit's agenda, approach and anticipated accomplishments. These accounts began in the communiqué of last year's Antalya Summit in Turkey, which identified the issues to which the leaders promised to return next year. They continued with China's 17-page outline of its agenda and approach in December 2015 when China formally assumed the G20 chair. They culminated in May 2016 when Wang Yi, China's foreign minister, outlined the ten deliverables that the Hangzhou Summit was expected to produce.

These lists clearly showed that the Hangzhou Summit would continue China's G20 leadership evident since the G20 was created in 1999. They offered a big, bold, comprehensive agenda, embracing traditional and new issues, and covering the finance and economics, social and sustainable development and political-security domains. "Innovation" usually came first on these lists. Yet there was no single accomplishment that stood out as the centrepiece of what the Hangzhou Summit would be remembered for.

Greater definition has now come from the opening chapter that President Xi Jinping has written for the G20 Research Group's official summit background book, G20 China: The Hangzhou Summit, co-edited by John Kirton and Madeline Koch, published by Newsdesk Media and available electronically for free.

President Xi begins by noting the "growing factors of instability and uncertainties" that the G20 leaders at Hangzhou face. He calls on them to make the "courageous choice" to "chart the course for the future." He then identifies the four "I's" in his summit theme: "Toward an Innovative, Invigorated, Interconnected and Inclusive World Economy." Absent is the fifth "I" of implementation that he had added informally to his impressive December 2015 list.

His first choice for a summit centrepiece is the G20 Blueprint on Innovative Growth. It includes structural reform, the new industrial revolution and the digital economy to boost medium and long-term growth. This suggests he wants Hangzhou to be remembered above all as the innovation summit, rather than an invigorated, interconnected or inclusive one.

His second choice is resilience against risks. It will come through macroeconomic policy coordination, a stronger international financial and monetary systems, and deeper cooperation on financial regulations, taxation, energy and anti-corruption. This familiar list from the G20's inherited agenda is notable for its emphasis on energy and on the political subject of anti-corruption. The latter shows that China needs international help to meet President Xi's key priority at home.

The third choice is addressing protectionism and deglobalization. This will be done through the G20 Strategy for Global Trade Growth and G20 Guiding Principles for Global Investment Policymaking. This emphasis on economic interconnectivity shows a determination to counter the dangerous forces reflected in those making Britain vote to leave the European Union, the largest marketplace in the world, and those propelling Donald Trump to become the Republican presidential candidate in the United States, with his call to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement and wall the United States off from Mexico, China and the Muslim world. It should remind all that China is now the world's only very big country fully committed to, and practising, international openness in both economic and demographic forms.

The fourth choice is sustainable development. This involves leading implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a G20 Initiative on Supporting Industrialization in Africa and Least Developed Countries, and the early entry into force of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Yet it raises the critical question for our dangerously warming world of whether they will industrialize Africa in the old, dirty, coal-fired way of the first industrial revolution or the new clean, green way that the Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Agreement demand and that today's fourth industrial revolution allows.

Together these four choices suggests that the Hangzhou Summit will produce a new, bigger, bolder chapter in the continuing, cumulating story of China's G20 Leadership, which I chart in my book recently published by Routledge. Yet to tie the four choices together in a single striking package that will be remembered for transforming the world, the G20 leaders at Hangzhou should do more. They should mobilize their talents to produce an innovative green growth strategy that will bring President Xi's vision of an ecological civilization from China to the world as a whole.


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