Was the G20 summit 'big on show but short on substance'?

We need to observe the different messages and gestures which have been conveyed and demonstrated by the global leaders especially by the leaders of emerging powers like India, Russia, China and Turkey

There have been news articles and posts circulating on social media and also in the global journalistic circles that the 2016 G20 summit in Hangzhou was “big on show but short on substance”. Such assertion which is being circulated in the journalistic circles needs to be examined and scrutinized and I am going to assess it in my piece.

The 2016 G20 Hangzhou summit was the eleventh meeting of the Group of Twenty (G20). It was held on 4–5 September 2016 in the city of Hangzhou (province of Zhejiang). It was the first ever G20 summit to be hosted in China and the second Asian country after 2010 G20 Seoul summit was hosted in South Korea. The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, has concluded his country’s first G20 summit by beseeching and importuning thousands of foreign journalists who were swarming to east China for the event to burgeon an unusual interest in their bosoms for the host city. Those who advocated the notion that the G20 Summit in China was short on substance argued how the reticence on matters of G20 substance, including the details of the final communiqué – made available only after Xi’s final press briefing – was deafening. When it did arrive, the nine-page, 7,000-word communiqué rendered few insights.

It was arranged around five themes: policy coordination; innovative economic growth; financial and economic governance; trade and investment; and development.

The communiqué bespoke the growingly intricate and technical language of G20 officials. Coupled with a paucity of tangible actions, the communiqué imparts a perspicuous nod that G20 leaders acquired slight joint basis during the summit. This ostensible “Hangzhou Consensus” entreats the G20 to proffer and yield an all-embracing economic upswing through harmonized and collaborative macroeconomic policy, open trade and innovation. This accord is followed by a catamaran of imprecise and perfunctory vows for future action. Ranging from innovation and the “new industrial revolution”, to matters of business financing, international tax evasion, anti-corruption initiatives, open trade and execution of the viable development objectives, the vows have failed to live up to the suppositions. Little veridical progression was made on crucial issues of climate change and energy. Other problems that devoured the consideration and vigour of leaders on the sidelines, including collaborative reactions to the Syrian dilemma, refugees, terrorism and migration, remain undetermined and equivocal. The G20 meeting’s final communiqué was longer on substance — it included a 48-point list of calls for freer trade, more innovation, and greater energy efficiency — but didn’t proffer tangible schemes to foster such conceptions. “Another year, another G-20, another yawn,” wrote Gavekal Research co-founder Arthur Kroeber. In an event where deliberation of crucial political issues like the South China Sea was forestalled by Chinese lobbying, much of the Western coverage was pivoted on China itself. In almost no other country would G20 summit coverage include so much about the host country. But China seemed to invite it. First there were the lead-up stories of Hangzhou using a seven-day public holiday to cajole a third of its six million residents out of the city. Thousands of residents were ordered to leave the imposing apartment blocks that surround the conference centre where global leaders had assembled, to avert any potential attack from above. Dissenters and recusants were placed under house arrest or coerced to leave the city by security agents. Factories all around were closed down to fabricate recherché azure skies. And entire neighbourhoods were left abandoned after migrant workers were driven out of the city when factories and building sites where they work were ordered to shut down in an effort to vanish higher concentration of pollutants in air. Then, there was a blatant yelling contest between Chinese security agents and White House officials when President Obama arrived. The outcome was him debarking from Air Force One without the usual red-carpeted staircase. Simultaneously, an altercation broke out on the tarmac when a Chinese official hampered the lining up of American reporters to record Mr. Obama’s departure, as members of the White House press corps commonly do on such occasions. “This is our country. This is our airport,” the official bawled. He then endeavoured to halt Susan Rice, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, from cutting across the cordon to join the president’s motorcade. Bawling and jostling continued at the diplomatic compound where the meetings were to take place, as Chinese security officers obstructed several White House staff members from entering. Foreign journalists have spent days plodding through Hangzhou’s uncanny and desolate lanes and walks – apprehensive Communist party security agents pursuing their every step – in a hapless pursuit to find interviewees.

Apart from all the aforementioned flaws, we need to observe the different messages and gestures which have been conveyed and demonstrated by the global leaders especially by the leaders of emerging powers like India, Russia, China and Turkey. Indian Prime minister Narendra Modi has accused Pakistan without naming as "a single nation" spreading terror in South Asia. The relationship between India and Pakistan has nosedived into an air of uncertainty laced with tensions with July's shooting in Kashmir of   Burhan Wani, who was venerated by Islamabad as a martyr. Wani, 22, one of the top commanders of separatist group Hizbul Mujahideen was killed by security forces, instigating huge demonstrations by civilians. 70 people have died and more than 10,000 left injured by the worst turmoil in Kashmir in six years.

Modi’s remarks were made at the G20 summit being held in China. "India, China must respect each other's aspirations, concerns and strategic interests," he said at the 35-minute-long meeting with Chinese president Xi, where he raised India's concerns over the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) being laid through Pakistan-administered Kashmir. "The response to terrorism must not be driven by any political consideration," Modi said, in a reference seen as a dig at China's opposition to designating Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar as a terrorist in the United Nations. The meeting between PM Modi and President Xi came amid a steady ebb in the bilateral relations between India and China over a barge of contentions. On the other hand, Putin also met with Turkish autarch Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov, saying “they talked for quite a long time, both in the format of the delegations meeting and one-on-one plus the foreign ministers. They then exchanged views on the Syrian issue. The conversation was quite frank and thorough.” The leaders paid special attention to energy development, and particularly, to the expanded supply of oil that may be carried out by Russia’s Rosneft oil giant.

Among other subjects touched upon by the two leaders, Peskov mentioned the possibility of dropping barriers to agricultural product imports from Turkey. “Our Turkish partners have raised the question of lifting restrictions on agricultural goods as soon as possible. We are to keep on working on this matter,” Peskov said.

“On the whole, the talks have been quite positive and showed our mutual intention to normalize relations,” the spokesman added.

The Russian and Turkish leaders discussed the Turkish Stream project - a proposed natural gas pipeline from southern Russia across the Black Sea to Thrace in Turkey, which was suspended in 2015 following the downing of a Russian military jet by Turkey.

“They discussed the Turkish Stream - the thing is that a great number of permits were issued for the South Stream route. Now the only thing that is to change is the name of the project and we need to reissue those permissions and that will substantially speed up the process. The route hasn’t changed, the name of the project has,” Peskov said. South Stream is an abandoned pipeline project to transport natural gas from Russia to Europe. The G20 Summit also gave Putin one of many opportunities to meet with China’s Xi Jinping, his main geopolitical ally, discussing key issues of mutual interest, including a belligerent US-dominated NATO threatening world peace.

Obama also met with his Russian counterpart President Vladimir Putin on Sept. 5 on the sidelines of the G-20 summit for around ninety minutes. The pair attempted to clarify gaps in negotiations over the Syrian crisis, but talks between their governments ended without an agreement over the weekend. The leaders also discussed Russia’s cyber intrusions and Ukrainian crisis. For Australia, there wasn’t an underwhelming G20 Summit as Australia’s low-key objectives to strengthen moves against international tax avoidance, to boost confidence in global trade and open markets, and to highlight innovation as a driver of economic growth were largely met.

From China’s perspective, it was an impeccable and immaculate performance. “Hangzhou amazed the world,” the Communist Party-run People’s Daily wrote in a post on Weibo last night. “Here people enjoyed the lake scenery and they saw China’s determination and confidence in promoting global governance change.” There was similar praise in other outlets. And China president Xi Jinping called progress to include smaller world economies at the meeting “groundbreaking.”

I hope that the global leaders will continue to strive hard without fluctuations towards attaining ever-lasting solutions to global problems like climate change, energy and terrorism.

Sarmad Iqbal is a writer, blogger, columnist and a student at FC College Lahore. He can be followed at Twitter @sarmadiqbal7.

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt