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2017 G20 Gains and Gripes

The latest G20 Summitan annual meeting  of international leaders from 20 countries and international organizations, convened last weekend from July 8-9th in Hamburg, Germany. Important areas of discussion for the 12th meeting of these global leaders included climate change and sustainable development, the global financial system and its growth, counter-terrorism, the spread of digital technology, health issues, anti-corruption, and women’s economic empowermentWhile there were many notable meetings taking place, the actions of the current US President and his administration in and out of the meeting settings did not go unnoticed on social media. Trump left to meet with Indonesian Prime Minister Joko Widodo during a G20 meeting, and drew heavy criticism online when his daughter Ivanka sat in his place instead of an actual, high-ranked official, as is precedent. Trump has been accused of nepotism in the past, and so this incident has certainly added fuel to the fire. Notably, there was also tension between the US and France on matters of climate change, and between the US and China over the production of steelSurprisingly, relations between Xi and Modi (the Prime Minister of India) were better than cordial, despite previous threats of war and strifeThe meeting itself was also controversial. During G20 50,000 anti-capitalist protestors gathered to protest the G20 Summit. One of the goals of this protest was to “bring our criticism of the G20 and our alternatives for fair global policies onto the streets” according to Thomas Eberhardt-Koester with ATTAC, a leftist group opposing neo-liberal globalization. There were injuries sustained by both police and protestors, with the latter group being attacked with a water cannon. 

China’s Role in G20

Historically, the United States has taken a leading role in the Summit, but due to its increasing protectionist and isolationist policies, China has emerged instead as a global leader alongside Germany. Last year, China hosted the G20 summit, and this year China’s role had a similar impact, supporting free trade and international investment. “According to Chen Fengying from China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, China was expected to outline possible solutions to questions of globalization and sustainable development. Championing the system of globalization, Chinese leaders have been present and active at numerous global meetings and projects leading up to this summit. As shown in the chart below from the World Bank, China currently sends the largest amount of delegates to G20: 

Graph of total population of the G20 members from 2016 by the World Bank


Initiatives such as the BRI and Made in China 2025 will play an important part in global economies and development in the coming years, and China’s progress and cooperation with these countries will work towards the goals that the last summit set forthInitiatives led and funded by China have the potential to revolutionize and implement cooperative projects that take place on a global scale. As an emerging global leader, China has also been promoting innovation-driven growth alongside their proposed initiatives from the last G20 summit. At this conference, they were pushing for the implementation of policies and expansion agreed upon in the Summit that China hosted in 2016. China is one of the key dominating nations at G20, and the action plan from the 2016 summit demonstrates their economic and political prowess and influence.  

Xi and Trump’s Meeting

Trump was described as having a “face like thunder” as Xi spoke on trade during a lunchtime meeting, setting a grim tone for their interactionsDuring their meeting Trump and Xi discussed trade issues, with Trump declaring that trade, as you know, is a very, very big issue for the United States now. Because over the years and — it’s really been over a long period of time many things have happened that have led to trade imbalances. And we’re going to turn that around. And I know that with China in particular which is a great trading partner, we will be able to do something that will be equitable and reciprocal. Xi and Trump also continued their fraught discussion on North Korea, with Tillerson stating that the “expectations [for China] are unchanged” and described the relationship as “uneven”. At their meeting Trump expressed gratitude for current efforts on the North Korea nuclear issue. The need for stronger ties was emphasized, and both countries have agreed to increase communications with each otherWhile the meeting lasted for an hour and a half, the White House press briefings on the President’s meetings with G20 leaders was surprisingly void of any particular mention of the meeting between Trump and Xi, and instead focused on issues with Syria and the meeting with Putin, and only mentioned China when the conversation about Russia involved North Korea. Chinese and US officials are scheduled to meet again on July 19th in Washington to follow up on issues of the economy and tradeTrump described the meeting with Xi in the tweet below:

Although Trump seems optimistic, analysts are doubtful that this coming meeting as well as the G20 meeting will produce tangible solutions, especially given the US’s previous history of anti-Chinese rhetoric and policy as well as Trump’s twitter tirades 

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G20 Results

While most of the media coverage has been surrounding the conflicts that arose during the meetings, the summit was able to agree and lay out many different initiatives for various nations to work on in the coming yearKey resolutions that were reported by Xinhua include continuing to expand and deepen the concept and implementation of structural reform in multiple countries, which was originally decided on at the Hangzhou Summit in 2016. Leaders will also be enhancing economic toughness and market competition as well as economic cooperation. The Summit leaders also committed to keep trade and investment markets open and transparent, as well as working to share information that is mutually beneficial between countries. The leaders are standing by their climate change policies such as working to reduce marine litter, and strongly noting the US’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Also on the agenda is “Enhanced equal access to the labor market, property, quality employment and financial services for women and men”, investing more in growth and development in the African continent, the G20 Initiative for Rural Youth Employment,  countering corruption in politics as well as in customs, and efficient use of resources. Fighting protectionism and creating clearer international trade rules is also issues that were focused on in detail during the meetings, according to German leader Angela MerkelWhile these are all noble pursuits, critics of G20 says that the group has problems with representation and fails to meet the agreements that are proposed at meetings.   

The full 2017 G20 Leaders’ Declaration can be found here. Important documents and action plans from the 2017 G20 Summit can be found here



Gretchen Trupp is a Summer 2017 intern at The Carter Center China Program.