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Taking Center Stage
China assumes a leading role in global economic management
By Tim Collard | NO. 37 SEPTEMBER 15, 2016

President Xi Jinping used his welcome speech to demonstrate to the leaders assembled for the Hangzhou G20 Summit that China is steadily growing into its new role as a leading player in global economic management. He made it very clear that there is no room at such an influential forum for what he called "empty talk" and that discussions must lead to agreements and agreements must lead to action.

This is quite a revolutionary concept in diplomacy. In my 20 years of diplomatic experience, all too often, an agreement on a joint communiqué was seen as an acceptable substitute for an action program—the wording of such documents concentrated more on avoiding conflict than on providing a basis for moving forward. Xi has recognized that this will no longer do, and what is more, is prepared to make his point publicly. The state of the global economy requires more than warm words, mutual flattery and baseless optimism.

The Chinese leader spoke of "a crucial juncture" in the world's affairs. He addressed the issues of persistently slack demand, slowdowns in international trade and investment, and dangerously uncontrollable fluctuations in financial markets. And, there are no "magic bullets" in sight. "Growth drivers from the previous generation of technological progress are gradually losing strength, while a new round of technological and industrial development has yet to gain momentum," he said. Of course this view fits perfectly with China's domestic economic program, and it's likely that Xi was offering the Chinese approach as a blueprint that other economies might wish to follow—and why not, seeing that China is managing the decline in growth better than most?

So, what did Xi's proposal for G20 members look like? In the usual, well-ordered Chinese fashion, he set it out in the form of five key points:

1) The macroeconomic policies of G20 members should be more deeply and strongly coordinated, jointly pursuing growth and financial stability (rather than trying to steal a march on each other by seeking short-term advantages).

2) G20 members should prioritize innovation as a driver of growth, collaborating closely to develop mutually beneficial growth engines.

3) Member economies should cooperate to improve international economic governance and ensure proper mutual compliance arrangements.

4) All major economic powers should work toward a more open world economy and make concerted efforts to promote the liberalization and facilitation of trade and investment. (This runs parallel to China's focus on trading infrastructure, by means of the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Road Initiative, and recognizes that there is still a way to go in the field of trade finance.)

5) All parties should work toward the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which aims to ensure that growth is directed toward positive social and environmental development.

This last point is particularly significant in the light of China's decision, in company with the United States, to ratify the Paris Agreement on combating climate change. It was often felt, especially by developing nations, that there was a conflict between the requirement to lower greenhouse gas emissions and legitimate aspirations to industrial development in order to catch up with the developed world. China has led the way, by making a clear commitment to combine development with environmental protection while also ensuring that growth is fairly distributed among the population. This is to avoid the emergence of socially damaging inequality.

Another significant point the Chinese president made was that it is time for emerging-market economies and developing countries to strengthen their role in international affairs, now that so many of the larger economic powers are mired in economic stagnation.

Prominent among those present in Hangzhou were the leaders of the BRICS countries, whom Xi addressed separately on the margins. Countries of the developing world are rightly concerned about protectionism, which is a constant temptation in times of economic uncertainty, but one which must be resisted. The establishment and entrenchment of an inclusive, rule-based and open world economy—ensuring a level playing field between developed and developing countries—was a key theme of the president's address. Xi also emphasized the need to reform the governance structures of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to ensure broader-based representation and influence in these central institutions.

China cannot, of course, take sole responsibility for saving and supporting the world. But Xi's address made it clear that the nation's re-emergence as a major world power will be matched by a proportionate assumption of responsibility for the world's future. And it shows that Xi is not a person to evade difficult questions, either at home or internationally.

The article was originally published at

Copyedited by Dominic James Madar

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