Instituto Confucio UC

G20 Summit tests global governance themes

Approximately 10 months after the successful G20 Summit in Hangzhou, it is the turn of a German city - Hamburg - to host this high-level meeting. Hamburg itself is an important place for the economic interests of most participant countries.

 By George N. Tzogopoulos

Source: People’s Daily and Global Times

Being the third largest port in Europe, it provides good opportunities for trade and interconnectivity. China naturally benefits because Hamburg is the leading seaport in Europe for its foreign trade. The Middle Kingdom is its most important partner for container traffic with volume handled reaching approximately 2.5 million TEUs. Almost one in three of the containers handled in this port comes from China or is starting the sea voyage to China from there.

Apart from symbolism, however, this year's G20 Summit has a special importance. In the aftermath of the inauguration of US President Donald Trump, it is debatable how the US perceives its role as the leading power of globalization. Trump pays more attention to bilateral deals instead of multilateral free trade agreements and this constitutes a critical policy change from that of his predecessor Barack Obama. There is no better example than his decision to bury Obama's TPP plan.

Within this framework, China is making small but steady steps to ensure that the process of globalization will not be seriously influenced by the obscure stance of the new American president. The first step was made in January 2017 when President Xi Jinping gave the keynote address during the Davos World Economic Forum. On the same wavelength, only a few days ago, Premier Li Keqiang also praised the benefits of globalization in the speech made in the Summer Davos.

It is premature to argue that China is replacing the US in leading the globalized world. Nonetheless, the country certainly sees a rising opportunity which it is carefully grasping. Some influential American commentators put the blame on Trump. In a recent article published in The New York Times, Thomas Friedman writes that the US president is "China's chump." After a personal visit to Asian countries, Friedman's conclusion is the shrinking of American influence in recent months is making China great again. It will be particularly interesting to monitor if this tendency will be again evident in Hamburg.

Moreover, this year's G20 Summit will offer useful insights on whether Trump might be cornered, especially after his decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have downplayed this scenario.

However, some international media are less optimistic. The Guardian, for instance, asserts that Merkel and Trump "head for [a] clash at G20 Summit." In parallel with this, Reuters sees the German chancellor as challenging the America First policies of the US president.

From another perspective, attention will be turned toward the first encounter between Trump and his counterpart from Russia, Vladimir Putin. The White House has already confirmed the meeting, which will take place amid domestic and international pressure - mainly from Europe - on the former for his perceived friendly temper vis-à-vis Moscow. It is questionable if Trump will practically proceed toward a reset of US-Russian relations and possibly to the opening of a new, better chapter under current circumstances. The personal chemistry between the two leaders will certainly play a role. No prognosis can be made because Trump is unpredictable and could even act spontaneously in Hamburg.

Last but not least, this year's G20 Summit might find China and the EU at odds regarding new Chinese investments, especially in European industries of strategic interest. Merkel has been skeptical on the matter and she is frequently sharing her concern with many other European leaders. The Beijing administration is aware of this German position but needs to elaborate more on appeasing fears as well as on possibly finding a new narrative involving the "win-win" theory. The Hamburg Summit is giving the opportunity to Chinese and European policymakers to discuss the issue, only a few weeks after the Brussels EU-China Summit.

All in all, the official program of the G20 Meeting is structured around important themes. These include the resilience of the global financial system, global economic growth, trade, tax evasion, corruption, digital technology, climate change and health. Irrespective of the significance of issues on the official program though, what will perhaps matter more in Hamburg will be which power or powers will be able to set the agenda. It is here where China is gradually gaining ground.

The author is a lecturer at the European Institute in Nice, France.