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Summit diplomacy: Channeling global governance

By Li Dongyan | 2015-01-01 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)




As an increasing force in world finance, BRICS countries have a more crucial role to play in the future world financial regime but, at the same time, are facing more challenges.




In the past few months, world lead­ers have had a full schedule of high-level meetings, such as the 2014 UN Climate Summit, the APEC summit, the East Asia Summit and the G20 summit. As a stage for multilateral diplomacy and global governance, these meetings are reflective of the changing international situation as well as the collision and integration of different powers, strategies and values.


Arena for powers

Summits have on their agendas global issues that concern interna­tional organizations and groups. By seeking common ground while respecting differences, summit meetings aim to promote regional and global consensus as well as better global governance through gathering political demands of member states and mobilizing various resources.


Through these conferences, dip­lomatic achievements tend to have long-lasting and institutionalized effects. Moreover, the yearly confer­ences play a key role in pushing ahead the realization of multilateral strategic goals.


The pursuit of common interest by member states has elevated the role of summits as a tool for global diplomacy. For instance, despite the tensions between Russia and the United States in 2013, the Group of Eight reached a consensus on issues like increasing humanitarian aid to Syria, returning to the negotiating table and condemning the use of chemical weapons.


Also, host countries usually have strong motivation to make progress in summit agendas. Taking the summits as a crucial opportunity, they are ambitious to achieve landmark changes in order to enhance both national and international influence.


However, there are some limita­tions, and summits vary in terms of status and influence. Compared to mature regional or international or­ganizations, summits of informal or­ganizations like the G20 and BRICS have relatively loose arrangements.


The G20 and G8 summits are less cohesive than the G7 summit. The G20 has been doing well with regard to global governance but conten­tiousness exists in the realms of poli­tics and security. For the G20 to play a larger role, many obstacles must be overcome, such as improving US-Russia and China-Japan relations as well as establishing trust among great powers.


Summits are not merely an oppor­tunity for group photos, delivering speeches and banquets. They are also arenas for diplomatic games.


For example, the Syrian and Ukrainian issues strained relations among the United States, Europe and Russia, leading to the expulsion of Russia from the G8. Cooperation, conflict and competition exist si­multaneously within the member­ship of a summit and among differ­ent summits.


Diversified stakeholders

In terms of agendas, summit meet­ings put weight on the expansion of economic cooperation, growth, employment and international financial reforms, which are the focus of the APEC and G20. Non-traditional security issues and global issues, however, such as Ebola, climate change and terror­ism, are drawing more and more attention. In addition, the issue of security has been labeled as one of the concerned areas in which the G7, G20 and BRICS are all trying to play larger roles.


Represented by the BRICS coun­tries, emerging economies are gaining a greater role in summit diplomacy and global governance.


The selection of host nations for the G20 also hints at the growing status of emerging economies. The G20 summit was initally held in developed countries such as the United States and Europe before it was convened in Korea in 2010. Two years later, it was held in Mexico. And Turkey will take over its presidency in 2015.


Through the introduction of a rotating presidency, developing countries of the G20 can have the opportunity to enhance their status and influence in global gov­ernance while sharing the respon­sibility. When Mexico became the first developing country to host the summit, it cast a brighter spot­light on development problems.


Participants in summit meet­ings tend to be diversified. In ad­dition to member states, summits have included delegates from non-member states and NGOs. The G20, for example, aims to maintain sustainable and effec­tive contact with non-G20 states and international organizations like the UN. Such a tendency also indicates that the participants in global governance are becoming increasingly diversified.


Though summit diplomacy ad­vances the construction of a global governance mechanism, summits are still often plagued with insur­mountable security and institu­tional dilemmas. The expansion of the G7 to the G8 has strengthened cooperation in the realms of econ­omy, politics and security but failed to ease the tension between Russia and other major Western powers and has even led to the escalation of disputes.


The G7 and G20 play significant but different roles in global gov­ernance. The former, consisting only of advanced economies, is not representative while the latter lacks cohesion and consistency. Moreover, the G20 works mainly in economy, finance, trade and de­velopment but its role in peace and security has yet to be seen.


Role of China

It can be seen that China has been more active and open at sum­mit meetings it recently attended. At the APEC summit, the East Asia Summit and the G20 sum­mit, China emphasized peaceful development, put forward feasible proposals and welcomed all other nations to share in the fruits of its development.


During the three summits, China expressed its willingness to coop­erate with other major countries and emphasized the importance of improving its relationships with developing countries, making com­mitments to provide them more assistance. During the East Asia Summit, China put forward the East Asia Cooperation Initiative on Poverty Reduction, and announced an offer of RMB 100 million for ru­ral poverty reduction projects and RMB 3 billion of free assistance to less-developed ASEAN countries. It also attempted to promote reforms in global finance and expand cooper­ation among BRICS nations through summit diplomacy.


China’s practical propositions during the summits have captured the world’s attention. It highlighted the equal emphasis on both political security and economic development while standing firm on the goal of building ASEAN into a community in the fields of political security, economy and social culture.


Rather than dodging disputes over the South China Sea, China confront­ed the issue head on by proposing to negotiate the signing of a treaty of friendship and cooperation to jointly safeguard peace and stability in the region. This reflects the initiative and flexibility of China in multilateral po­litical and security cooperation.


As China rises and exerts increas­ing influence, its development path is more attractive than before. As a con­sequence, it is important to pay atten­tion to and understand China, which will have a great impact on the world order and global governance system in the future. However, attitudes of suspicion, anxiety and outright hostil­ity toward China still exist.


With the role of summit diplo­macy becoming important, scholars have started establishing criteria for evaluating the summits. Evaluation criteria can influence the effect of the summit meetings, the common in­terest of participants and the nation­al political benefit of the host nation. A significant standard is whether participating countries can stimu­late, adjust and achieve compromise with one another for mutual benefit.


Other standards include the abil­ity of leaders to resolve differences as well as achieve cohesion among members, agree on policy and implement outcomes. The existing evaluation criteria and frameworks offer a valuable frame of reference for China. At present, the realistic question is how to hold a successful, distinctive and innovative G20 sum­mit to fulfill China’s mission as the host nation of the G20 in 2016.


Li Dongyan is a research fellow of the Institute of World Economics and Politics at the Chinese Acad­emy of Social Sciences.