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Working out the Kinks
The G20 Osaka Summit explores answers to the world's problems
By Yuan Yuan  ·  2019-07-05  ·   Source: NO.28 JULY 11, 2019

Chinese President Xi Jinping (fourth right, front) poses for a group photo with the other leaders attending the 14th G20 Summit held in Osaka, Japan, on June 28 (XINHUA)

With growing uncertainties in world trade, the economy, climate change and many other issues, the leaders of 19 countries and the European Union as members of the Group of 20 (G20), as well as 17 guest countries and international organizations met in Osaka, Japan, for two days to seek possible solutions.

The G20 Summit 2019, held on June 28-29, is the 14th of its kind covering themes such as the world economic situation, trade, investment, innovation, climate change, World Trade Organization (WTO) reform, an aging society, health, women's empowerment and the digital economy.

Many leaders expressed their concerns over serious hazards brought about by unilateralism and protectionism, and agreed that all sides should strengthen communication and dialogue, and maintain unity and cooperation.


The Chinese delegation to the G20 Summit holds a press briefing in Osaka on June 29 (YU WEN) 

China's stance 

Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the summit, his seventh and his first trip to Japan since taking office in 2013.

While addressing the summit on June 28, Xi called on the G20 major economies to explore driving forces for growth, improve global governance, remove development bottlenecks and properly address differences.

Xi announced that China will further open up its market, proactively expand imports, improve its business environment for foreign enterprises and press ahead with negotiations on economic and trade deals.

The president said that China will soon release the 2019 edition of its negative list on foreign investment, which was released on June 30, set up six new pilot free trade zones, further bring down its overall tariff level, strive to remove non-tariff trade barriers and slash institutional costs of imports. In addition, China will lift all foreign investment restrictions beyond the negative list and provide equal treatment for all types of businesses registered in China in the post-establishment phase.

"The world economy is once again at a crossroads 10 years after the global financial crisis broke out," Xi said. "The G20 bears the responsibility for charting the course of the world economy and global governance at a crucial time, as well as for injecting confidence into the market and bringing hope to the people."

"In his speech, Xi called on the G20 major economies to embrace development opportunities with greater openness and seek win-win results with better cooperation to guide economic globalization in the right direction," said Zhu Jiejin, an associate professor in the School of International Relations and Public Affairs of Fudan University.

Zhu said that some G20 members have some misunderstandings about China and question whether the trade friction with the U.S. exists because China's domestic market is not open enough or because of China's own problems. Xi's speech offered a clear answer.

Wang Xiaolong, special envoy on G20 affairs of the Chinese Foreign Ministry and Director General of the Department of International Economic Affairs, said China had, for the first time, placed the issues of the digital economy and innovation-driven economy on the G20 agenda at the Hangzhou Summit in 2016. "We are glad to see that these topics have been discussed at all three subsequent summits." Xi also attended a special event on the digital economy before the summit.

The first to address the summit, Xi said that "we should nurture a fair, just and non-discriminatory market environment, rather than developing behind closed doors and artificially interfering in the market." As a country strong in the digital economy, Xi confirmed that China is willing to participate in international cooperation and maintain an open market to achieve win-win outcomes.

The meeting of the leaders from the two largest economies in the world drew a lot of attention at the summit. It finally took place on June 29 on the sidelines of the summit. After a hand-shaking hello at the opening of the summit on the previous day, Xi and U.S. President Donald Trump sat down and talked for 80 minutes.

The two presidents agreed to restart economic and trade consultations between China and the U.S. on the basis of equality and mutual respect. The U.S. will not add new tariffs on imports from China and the two countries' economic and trade negotiating teams will work on specific issues.

After the meeting, Trump claimed his discussion with Xi was "excellent" during a press conference, adding, "We discussed a lot of things and we're right back on track."

It was the first face-to-face meeting between Xi and Trump since December 2018 in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires, also on the sidelines of a G20 summit. At that meeting, the two leaders agreed on a 90-day ceasefire in the U.S.-provoked trade war.

"It is normal for China, the world's largest developing country, and the U.S., the largest developed country, to have differences," Wang said. "As Xi said, China is sincere about continuing negotiations with the United States... but negotiations should be equal and show mutual respect."

A photo taken on June 28 shows the venue for the G20 Summit in Osaka from outside (ZHANG LIYING) 

Hot topics 

Meanwhile, United Nations (UN) Secretary General António Guterres said at a press conference held on June 28 that the digital economy, including artificial intelligence, is bringing dramatic changes to the world.

"There's a strong commitment to guarantee that countries are able, through education, through lifelong learning, through new forms of social protection, through regional programs and job creation programs, to minimize the negative impact of that change, and at the same time to optimize the positive contributions of the Fourth Industrial Revolution," he said.

Guterres also expressed his concerns. "There are questions related to cybersecurity that need to be addressed; there are questions related to peace and security," he said. "There are a lot of things that will have to be discussed at different forums. There's a lot to be done."

"We welcome the G20 Ministerial Statement on Trade and the Digital Economy in Tsukuba," the G20 Osaka Leaders' Declaration released on June 29 said. "We strive to realize a free, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable and stable trade and investment environment, and to keep our markets open."

It added that to further promote innovation in the digital economy, it supports the sharing of good practices on effective policy and regulatory approaches and frameworks that are innovative as well as agile, flexible and adapted to the digital era, including the use of regulatory sandboxes.

The secretary general also talked about climate change, an issue that topped the agenda at the summit. He used the term "lagging behind" several times at the press conference to express his concern with human beings not taking enough measures to deal with the issue.

"It's important that the international community is able to stand together and make sure that what was agreed in Paris and what was agreed at other forums move forward independent of the political will of this or that statesman," Guterres said.

He said, "Putting a price on carbon, ending subsidies for fossil fuels, not accepting the idea that we still have an acceleration of construction of coal power plants and many other aspects are extremely relevant in order to make sure that we are able to abide by what the scientific community is telling us is absolutely essential to rescue the planet."

The UN Climate Action Summit will be held in New York in September, he said. "That is the reason why we are appealing to the leaders here in relation to a much stronger commitment of their countries for climate action."

Wang said that China, France and the UN held a three-party meeting on the sidelines of the Osaka Summit, reiterating their commitment to the Paris Agreement and closer international cooperation on climate change.

"The meeting injected a strong impetus into the multilateral process created to deal with climate change," Wang said.

WTO reform was also a hot topic at the summit as the WTO's three functions of administering multilateral trade rules, organizing trade negotiations and settling trade disputes came under the spotlight.

The topic was discussed at various meetings throughout the summit.

On May 13, China submitted its proposal to the organization and identified four key points: tackling the essential and pressing issues threatening the existence of the organization, increasing WTO relevance for global economic governance, improving the organization's operating efficiency and increasing the inclusiveness of the multilateral trade mechanism.

"China's standpoint is very clear. It represents developing countries and regions. The WTO needs to be reformed to keep pace with the times. China emphasizes that the solution must include promoting free trade, open markets and development," said Zhu. "The reason why the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) could be established and later evolved into the WTO mechanism was that it classifies countries into different categories. The mechanism promotes free trade, open markets and different treatment for different countries, which is related to their degree of development and their pace of opening up, all of which are related to different stages of development."

"China's plan reflects the policy positions of BRICS countries and developing countries. Therefore, it enjoyed a very high degree of attention at the G20 Summit. This is also China's responsibility as a developing country," Zhu added.

The G20 Osaka Leaders' Declaration also said, "We reaffirm our support for the necessary reform of the WTO to improve its functions…We agree that action is necessary regarding the functioning of the dispute settlement system consistent with the rules as negotiated by WTO members. Furthermore, we recognize the complementary roles of bilateral and regional free trade agreements that are WTO-consistent."

Chen Jianqi, a professor from the Chinese Academy of Governance, explained that the G20 summit mechanism was set up when the world was hit by the financial crisis in 2008. It was then that the world realized that the Group of Seven formula, consisting of the seven big developed countries, was not enough to deal with the world's problems, so other major players were invited to take a seat at the table. The G20 was thus founded, accounting for two thirds of the world's population and over 85 percent of the world's GDP.

"Now, the G20 has become the premium forum of global economic cooperation and the world is now again at a crucial time for great transformation," Chen said. "China, with its firm stance and solid actions, has mapped out a way for the development of the world's economy and global governance."

(Reporting from Osaka, Japan) 

Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo

Comments to yuanyuan@bjreview.com 

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