What Can We Expect from China at the G20?

A ChinaFile Conversation

On September 4-5, heads of the world’s major economies will meet in the southeastern city of Hangzhou for the G20 summit. The meeting represents “the most significant gathering of world leaders in China’s history,” according to The New York Times. Beijing’s growing international legitimacy belies domestic unease about Chinese Communist Party rule and international concern about Chinese power. We asked veteran China watchers what we can expect from discussions at the summit, beginning with looks at China’s record on human rights, the environment, and Beijing’s relationship with Moscow. —The Editors


When world leaders touch down in early September in the city of Hangzhou for this year’s G20 leaders’ summit, which China will they see? The one of glossy skylines, enviable growth statistics, and perfectly choreographed diplomatic exchanges? Or the one in which China’s prominent human and civil rights lawyers are detained, forcibly disappeared, and prosecuted on charges of subversion? The one in which civil society groups aiding survivors of domestic violence and sexual harassment are abruptly shut down?

And will they see the ominous international trend emerging, of Chinese authorities and their agents abducting critics outside the mainland, then broadcasting some of their “confessions” on national television, while often denying their lawyers, family members, and—in the cases of those who hold other citizenship—even embassies access to them? To be fair, governments and international institutions have expressed concern about these trends. “These actions undermine China’s claim to be a rule of law society and run contrary China’s human rights commitments and hinder its attempts to build a more transparent and effective justice system,” commented the United States Department of State. The European Union agreed: “These cases are part of a worrying trend and call into question China’s respect for the rule of law and for its international human rights obligations, not least freedom of speech.” And in March 2016, a dozen governments made a rare public joint statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council, claiming that “These actions are in contravention of China’s own laws and international commitments.” Yet increasingly, these expressions of concern read more as statements of the painfully obvious. What they lack is clarity about what the United States, the European Union, or others will actually do in response to China’s sharply escalating repression.

For more than a decade, the strategy of governments with an interest in human rights in China has been persuasion and even chumminess, punctuated periodically with public outrage at some particularly negative development, such as the imprisonment of the democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo, who was later awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. And sometimes, these governments have put forward logically coherent and instrumentally compelling arguments to appeal to Beijing’s interest in long-term stability. They cite the need for an independent judicial system, and the value of differing views to reach good policy decisions and of a predictable legal system for foreign and domestic investors. And, critically, they try to find, engage, and support the work of more reform-minded elements in the Chinese government, government representatives have told me privately.

But those elements are much harder to identify under the harsh, doctrinaire rule of Chinese Communist Party Secretary Xi Jinping. And as sympathetic as those reformers may have been to more rights-respecting rule, since Xi ascended to the top of the Party in late 2012 they have not been in a position to see meaningful liberal reforms through the stifling one-party system. Moreover, Beijing simply does not believe that respecting human rights will produce more peaceful, stable outcomes in the regions of Tibet or Xinjiang, or that tolerating peaceful criticism is critical to China’s future. Increasingly, it construes all manner of behavior it does not like as a threat to national security. And while many governments recognize Beijing’s abusive trends, few are willing to consider leveling meaningful consequences in response, often privately lamenting their lack of leverage.

Read an extended version of this post in our Viewpoint section. —The Editors

Advocating for a "more assertive" stance on human rights when, first, western soft-power is at a 30 year low point (due in no small part to the Summer of Brexit and Trump) and, second, nationalist sentiments among the Chinese population are simultaneously trekking upwards is very curious timing, to say the least. Western governments have to realize that the domestic political benefits Beijing can reap from "standing up" to perceived foreign "moral imperialism" haven't been this high since the peak of the Cold War—and the more punitive the Western measures appear to be, the stronger the domestic political benefits will likely be. There are analogies to be drawn here both to Putin's persistent domestic popularity in the face of escalating Western hostility, and to the overwhelming domestic support that the Chinese government enjoyed for adopting a hardline stance against the "Umbrella Movement" in Hong Kong. On almost anything related to human rights, Zhongnanhai reacts to domestic, not international, pressure. The latter, in fact, will likely have the opposite effect that Richardson is hoping for.

Climate change is the area in which China has shown perhaps the strongest international leadership. As China hosts the G20, we can expect energy and climate to be front and center.

China has met or exceeded most of the energy and climate goals it has set so far and it is on track to achieve its Paris goals ahead of schedule. While its main goal—to peak emissions by 2030—had initially seemed somewhat challenging, many signs now point to a far earlier emissions peak. Coal use has been declining since 2013, which is a good sign, but there is still major overcapacity in the sector. The transition away from coal will be a challenging one for China. It has already made amazing achievements in clean energy, but the coal industry is a major employer and the coal companies are very powerful. We are seeing some of China’s leading coal companies like Shenhua look to diversify their investments and expand into renewables, which is a very positive trend.

Most important to watch now will be China’s ability to continue the economic transition that is facilitating emissions reductions and a shift in the energy mix. Chinese government policy has strongly supported the expansion of renewable and non-fossil energy while restricting coal consumption and production. This expansion has been motivated by concerns not only about climate change, but also local air pollution and energy security, as well as a broader industrial strategy to increase innovation in strategic industries, including cleantech. China’s entire science and technology (S&T) support system is in the process of being overhauled in an attempt to make research and design (R&D) investments more competitively allocated and more effectively utilized. This could mean more strategic support for clean energy innovation under the new S&T support system, which could further increase China’s competitiveness in clean energy technology industries.

The upcoming G20 leaders’ summit is probably the last chance for a final joint climate change statement, and the U.S. will want it to be a good one. Climate change, and particularly climate engagement with China, is most certainly a legacy issue for the Obama Presidency. U.S.-China cooperation has been a key driver of global climate action, as we saw heading into Paris, and it could also be important in driving action at the G20. Climate has also been the cornerstone of the U.S.-China bilateral relationship, allowing for constructive dialogue between the two nations to continue even as tensions run high in other areas.

At the G20 summit, leaders may put forth formal announcements of ratification or of joining the Paris agreement so that it can swiftly enter into force. The U.S. and China are poised to lead the way among the G20 so that the other countries will follow. Other issues where the U.S. and China have made progress in bilateral negotiations may also show up in G20 outcomes, including negotiations about the greening of brown overseas assistance to developing countries. Green finance has become a flagship issue for China, especially with its leadership on South-South support, and it has set up a green finance study group under its G20 presidency.

The G20 is the most powerful economic and political club in the world, and China’s hosting is a great opportunity for it to demonstrate continued climate leadership in the global spotlight.

Read an extended version of this post on China FAQs. —The Editors

Joanna provided a good overview. Compared to the previous G20 summits, climate change has been elevated high on the agenda this year. This is reflected in the priority that the Chinese presidency has given to urge nations to formally join the Paris Agreement, as well as the progress on greening the financial system, and the discussion on fossil fuel subsidy reform.

But in addition to this progress on the policy front, the politics is shifting as well. One trend worth noting is that the Chinese are not shying away anymore from the word “leadership” in relation to its climate actions. In fact, senior Chinese officials are using the term “领导力” (lǐngdǎo lì) or “leadership” in their official policy documents. Compared to the catastrophic failure in Copenhagen, this is a sea change in terms of how Beijing perceives itself in the global climate stage. This sense of confidence is underpinned by the historic U-turn of China’s coal consumption and its robust renewable energy development. It also gives China the capability to strike strategic deals with the U.S. The upcoming joint ratification and the fossil fuel subsidy peer review are two cases in point. The former puts China’s weight as a safeguard to the U.S. walking away from the Paris deal. The latter opens up an important domestic policy field for each other to comment (quite unthinkable if one recalls the pre-Copenhagen period of U.S.-China confrontation on transparency issues).

Overall, the current period is probably the best historical moment to further strengthen China’s domestic and international climate actions. A future U.S. president will be unwise to not capture this window of opportunity and build on it from here.

I remember vividly my first trip to Hangzhou some 20 years ago, on my maiden visit to China. It was a sleepy city, suffused in the quiet splendor of a rich imperial past. Walking the West Lake causeway one night, a bat swooped low and bounced off the top of my sister’s head. I reassured her, based on what little I knew of Chinese culture, that bats were symbols of good fortune, and she should count herself lucky. There was no Zhang Yimou lightshow, though he was that year becoming known to moviegoers worldwide thanks to his electrifying epic To Live. There was no Alibaba Headquarters, though it was the year that Jack Ma heard about the Internet. There were no Ferrari dealerships or Gucci stores or Starbucks—to feed a caffeine addiction, one had to drink the green tea that grew in abundance in the surrounding hills.

The Hangzhou on display for the G20 glistens and gleams with the sparkle of a wealthy and powerful China. With my fond memories of a shabbier city where a budding student of Chinese history could wander ruins of the past quietly, I am happy to watch the summitry from afar. Here in Seoul, the mood toward China is anxious, and Korean president Park Geun-hye’s every move will be scrutinized. Park carefully built up a remarkably close relationship with Xi Jinping, immortalized by standing beside him last September on the Tiananmen rostrum during China’s military parade celebrating victory over Japan in 1945. But that moment turned out to be the apogee of Xi-Park intimacy, as the dictates of their perceived foreign policy interests sent them drifting down different currents, and then North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests early this year capsized the close ties between Seoul and Beijing. President Park reacted to North Korea’s muscle flexing by terminating her inter-Korean policy of talking to Pyongyang despite tensions. Meanwhile, frustrated with Beijing’s unresponsiveness—the word in Seoul was Xi refused to pick up the phone when Park called—she gave the green light to deployment in Korea of a U.S. missile defense system known as THAAD (Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense). Seoul had been adamant that a fourth nuclear test by Pyongyang would be a “game changer” and would elicit a dramatic counter-response; Beijing had been insisting that THAAD deployment by Seoul would change the strategic balance of power in the region and would be vehemently opposed by China. Suddenly, both red lines had been crossed. Park’s China strategy—of forging close ties to Xi without ruffling Washington’s feathers—and her North Korea strategy—of trying to build “trust” with Kim Jong-un and keeping lines of communication open despite ongoing hostility—were now both in tatters.

It is unclear where Seoul goes from here. Not talking to Pyongyang will not stop their advances in nuclear and missile weaponry, as recent weeks have demonstrated. And not getting along with Beijing is not really an option, given economic realities: China is South Korea’s largest trade partner by far, exceeding trade with the U.S. and Japan combined. If Park has to walk back one of her two major foreign policy reversals, it is almost sure to be the harder edge toward Beijing rather than the hard line toward Pyongyang. But given Beijing’s implacable opposition to South Korea’s missile defense plans, restoring Sino-South Korean friendship to the moment last year in Tiananmen seems like a bridge too far. Like my rosy memories of early 1990s Hangzhou, the solidarity between Xi and Park seems to have slipped into the realm of history, or perhaps its mischievous cousin, nostalgia.

The G20 could not have come at a better time for both Russia and China.

China’s global standing has been undermined by the Hague Tribunal’s ruling on the South China Sea dispute with the Philippines, the ongoing crackdown on human and labor rights lawyers, and uncertainty about its economic reforms directions and the general pulse of the economy.

Russia—weakened by the economic stagnation caused by the Western sanctions over the Ukraine, a fall in oil prices, and ineffective economic governance and corruption—finds an outlet for limited engagement with the West in Syria, where it supports the Assad regime and plays what it sees as a peace- and deal-making role. The G20—with its stated focus on global economy and high profile membership—provides a unique opportunity for both Russia and China for behind-closed-doors diplomacy on Syria, the South China Sea, and the Ukraine—issues seemingly far removed from the economic governance agenda.

It is an opportunity that the global leaders should not miss.

While it is difficult to imagine any breakthrough on the Ukraine, the summit may provide a chance for Russia and the United States to find a common ground on Syria, for example on the issue of Turkey’s new campaign in Syria. Both Russia and the U.S. have some leverage on Turkey, which can be used to minimize any further escalation of the conflict brought by Turkey’s incursions. Russians and Americans can also engage on the potential areas of coordination (rather than cooperation) in maximizing military pressure on ISIS.

China and the U.S. may seek to restate their respective positions on the South China Sea dispute, but also brainstorm potential regional dialogue mechanisms and confidence-building measures, which can further inform the agenda of the upcoming ASEAN Summit in Laos on September 6-8.

Finally, the G20 gives Russia and China a platform to publicly reaffirm their strategic partnership in the face of deteriorating relations with the U.S. (and, in Russia’s case, with Europe) and a lack of progress on the bilateral economic front. But we should not expect to see any strong anti-U.S. rhetoric—for China, the G20 will be overwhelmingly about demonstrating its global leadership and growing power.

The G20 summit was initiated as a response to the global financial crisis starting with the Wall Street meltdown in September 2008. Since the first Washington, D.C. summit in November 2008, China has been looked up to as the lodestar that could lead the world economy out of the crisis. This no longer will be the case at the upcoming Hangzhou summit.

In the midst of the global crisis, China surpassed Japan to become the biggest foreign creditor to the U.S. government in 2008 and became the second largest economy in the world in 2010. China’s economy, though battered by the initial fallout of the financial crisis, rebounded strongly in 2009-2010 amid an orgy of fixed asset investment fueled by profuse state bank lending. Major economies of the world from Australia to Brazil were spared from the global crisis by strengthening ties with China. Many claimed that China’s decision to buy or sell U.S. Treasury bonds would determine whether a forecast collapse of the dollar could be prevented. In those years, Chinese leaders were not shy to lecture American officials on economic governance.

As such, Chinese leaders attending the G20 summit often were confident enough to challenge U.S. leadership in the world economy and suggest bold reform of global economic governance. At the first summit in 2008, then Chinese President Hu Jintao hinted at China’s discontent with the dollar’s world domination, proposing an increase in the “diversity of the international monetary system.” At the 2011 summit, Hu made the specific proposal about an international reserve system based on the International Monetary Fund’s Special Drawing Right currency basket (IMF SDR), which has “stable value, rule-based issuance, and manageable supply,” implying that the U.S. dollar, as the dominant reserve currency, lacks these qualities. The proposal was in tandem with Beijing’s push for internationalization of the yuan and China’s successful bid for yuan’s inclusion in the SDR basket.

Now, just as the G20 summit finally goes to China for the first time, the Chinese economy is struggling. Many fear a deepening slowdown of China will pose a grave risk on global growth despite the solid recovery of the U.S. The anxiety about a Chinese debt crisis caused by the hangover of the debt-fueled overinvestment underlying the 2009-2010 rebound is in the air. With worsening capital flight and stock market volatility since last year, Beijing has been tightening foreign exchange control and increasing its administrative intervention into the stock market. Many see a reversal of the country’s opening-up policy. Some blame China’s alleged attempt to export its industrial overcapacity for the rise of trade protectionism around the world.

China still has a lot of ambitious plans to offer to the world, such as the AIIB and the One-Belt One Road Initiative. But these plans are insufficient to outweigh China’s economic challenges. China has lost its aura. It is likely that in the upcoming summit, President Xi will take a more humble stand and China will be less of the center of attention. It is ironic for the first G20 summit hosted by China.

This G20 summit will see a record high number of countries from the global south attending the meeting. It will also be the first time that China gets the opportunity to lead and shape the agenda for the summit. From the perspective of China-Africa relations, this G20 is in more ways than one the chance for China to share with the rest of world leaders its expertise and learned experience in launching investment-led development projects with African nations.

Indeed, whereas the theme of the G20 revolves around achieving an “innovative, invigorated, interconnected and inclusive world economy,” I want to focus mostly on the concept of inclusivity. First of all, this implies that China is interested in opening up the conversation about international development to more members than the usual suspects (big powers). This in itself is commendable given that many countries from the Global South have important input to give with regards to development. Second, highlighting inclusivity also suggests that China is interested in defining its role in the Global South as cooperative and inclusive rather than zero-sum exclusive vis-à-vis traditional powers (E.U., U.S., et al.) I think there is a real opportunity for this G20 to include as many voices and concerns from countries of the Global South as possible. If the goal is indeed to achieve certain levels of economic growth, innovation, and integration then it makes sense to be inclusive of global south states. So what should we expect to see from this G20 on the question of being inclusive of other countries?

China’s experience in international development and industrialization has, to a great extent, been shaped by China’s experiences with African states. In fact, one can notice that Africa’s development and industrialization is put front and center as a priority area for the agenda on this upcoming G20. In effect, both state- and non-state actors and individual merchants from China have been increasingly involved in African countries, and African leaders have consistently provided input and feedback on the various development projects established under the auspices of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). The expansive relations and expertise that Chinese foreign policy makers have been gaining through FOCAC shapes China’s views on development and economic growth. By extrapolating from China’s Africa policy and trying to understand how it views development, we could expect to see a focus on:

  1. Investment-led rather than foreign-aid based development,
  2. The centrality of improving people-to-people bonds, and, relatedly,
  3. The focus on technology transfers, investments in human resource development, and capacity building projects in order to ensure the sustainability of development projects.

When I was in elementary school, high-level officials from the Chinese government would occasionally grace our school in the small town 60 miles away from Hangzhou where the G20 summit will soon be held. Weeks before their arrival, we would diligently sweep the classroom floors and wipe the windows every day. During their visit, the leaders would stop by some classrooms and audit several minutes of the ongoing classes. We would rehearse several times the classes that were to be audited. One time before some leaders’ visit, our Chinese teacher pulled me aside and told me that I was selected to answer a question at the time when the leaders arrived at our classroom. I instantly felt the great responsibility bestowed on me. The teacher told me what question she would be asking, and how I should answer it. I wrote down the answer and memorized it over and over. When the moment came, I “voluntarily” stood up and delivered the answer with great confidence and style.

Everything was an act. The school leaders, teachers, and students pretended to present something real. The government officials pretended to see something real. The journalists who came with the officials pretended to report on something real. Everyone dutifully served their respective roles and life went on. I think the G20 to most of the Chinese people who are involved in the preparation and execution of the meetings—rank-and-file government officials, workers and volunteers of the summit, and journalists who report on the event—is like an officials’ visit to my elementary school but in a much larger scale and at a much higher level.

And those who dare not play their role are summarily silenced. After Guo Enping, a civil servant in Taizhou city in Zhejiang province, published the article “Hangzhou, Shame on You” on July 10, criticizing the government’s costly project to “beautify” the city for the G20 Summit, the Chinese government promptly fired him and jailed him for 10 days for rumormongering.

The environment for the Chinese press has already been extremely tight. After Xi assumed power, areas that were once a safe ground—such as the economy—are becoming more and more off limits. Now, even celebrities’ love affairs are no longer a totally harmless topic, let alone critical reporting of the summit.

What to expect from the Chinese press on its coverage of the G20? I think most journalists would—without a real choice—dutifully participate in the act of reporting, extolling China’s achievements and prominence in the global economy while saying a few things about the West’s intention to undermine China’s rise. Some journalists will keep quiet. Those who blast their true feelings and thoughts on social media will await their fate, with the worst scenario being getting jailed. With 49 behind bars already, China was the worst jailer of journalists in 2015, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

I share many of the concerns of the writers here, but the G20 is foremost a forum for the global economy, so let’s stay focused. If you are distracted by human rights, the South China Sea, North Korea, Russia, Turkey, and ISIS, then it will dilute the substance of the G20. Right after Sept 11, 2001, every global and regional forum attended by the United States had to highlight the war on terror, which hijacked the time that should have been spent on other equally important, if not much more important issues such as poverty reduction, development, and the environment.

I share some of Sophie Richardson’s concerns, but to say that human rights should be a main topic at the G20 is just like saying gun violence and racial discrimination should be a key topic of every global forum held in the U.S.

It is true that as Joanna Lewis said, this is probably the last chance for a final joint climate change statement. President Xi and President Obama have shown their global leadership in the last few years in this regard. A Donald Trump presidency would clearly mean the end of U.S. leadership in this regard.

China has set a good example for the developing world in lifting 600 million of its people out of poverty in roughly four decades. Lifting more people out of poverty in China, South Asia, Africa, and other developing nations, while not making sexy headlines, is more urgent than many issues that make it onto the front page each day. That is why it is right to put the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda at the top of the agenda at the G20.

The G20 should focus on how major economies can coordinate in their policies in boosting a tepid global economy. This topic is now complicated by the strong populist and protectionist sentiment in both the U.S. and the U.K., as reflected in the Brexit and the fact that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Just remember that a few decades ago, it was the U.S. and Europe that pressed China for foreign trade. Now it’s China that is the world’s largest trading nation and one that favors globalization and international trade more than most West nations.

China’s recent initiatives on the One Belt, One Road and the AIIB also demonstrate the country’s leadership in development. If we look at the countries in trouble today, it is often because the young people in those countries lack jobs and opportunities.

From Shanghai, I have made many trips to beautiful Hangzhou in the past. There is no doubt that China will make a great host and organizer as it demonstrated in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2010 Shanghai World Expo.

The G20 is more representative of the global reality today than the G7. The fact that China is hosting this year is an acknowledgement of its place as the world’s second largest economy and as an engine for global growth in the past decades, even and especially since the 2008 financial crisis. That is also true for other emerging countries that, like China, should have a bigger say in international governance at institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

China needs to focus on its transition to a sustainable model that is good for itself and the world in the long run. Many reforms are needed and many problems need to be tackled. But unlike in many countries where “reform” is a toxic word, Chinese embrace it. The rest of the world should show more understanding and patience if they just compare the changes taking place in China and their own countries.

There will be a mismatch between the aspirations of China and India at the forthcoming G-20 summit in Hangzhou. China, as summit host, wants to show it has global leadership skills commensurate with its economic size. India, on other hand, is going with few expectations. If anything, New Delhi believes the G-20’s agenda has become too sprawling and nebulous.

India’s agenda is restricted to promoting international labor mobility—a standard part of its trade policy, reducing the cost of cross-border remittances and access to cleaner energy technologies. These barely register on China’s agenda, which includes new areas such as innovation, reversing rising protectionist sentiment around the world, and promoting global investment in infrastructure.

Even in broad areas where the two countries agree, they have major differences on the approach.

Thus they both support the idea of investment in infrastructure, but India increasingly is wary of China’s One Belt, One Road program and will resist giving it a G-20 imprimatur. The two also agree on the importance of climate change. But New Delhi has already said it will not support Chinese (and American) attempts to get a commitment on ending fuel subsidies. As mentioned, India will emphasize access to cleaner energy technologies.

The Narendra Modi government has gained much political mileage back home by tackling corruption. Yet India has gone into the summit planning to oppose China’s call for a database on “persons sought for corruption”—though largely because Beijing has shared few details of who this would cover and how it would be used.

One area where there is genuine convergence is a common belief the West’s solution to low growth—ever looser monetary policies—is a recipe for disaster. India and China, whose economies are among the fastest growing in the world, both argue that the West is printing money in lieu of structural reform—and this will come back to bite the world economy later.

An OpEd piece by a Chinese diplomat in New Delhi on bilateral G-20 cooperation seemed to argue India should give China a free pass at Hangzhou in return for China doing the same during the upcoming BRICS summit in New Delhi. “One of the important consensuses reached during the visit of [Wang Yi to India] was that the two countries agreed to support each other in ensuring the success of the two summits.”

New Delhi’s view has been that since the G-20’s united response to the global financial crisis, the organization has struggled to find coherence. Arvind Panagariya, a Columbia University economist and India’s sherpa for the G-20, in an interview in late August said of the G-20 agenda, “Every presidency wants to add something and leave its stamp on the agenda. So naturally it adds something while the older ones do not exit. So it really becomes too wide-ranging and has so many layers, as a result of which there is a little risk of losing focus.”

India’s tepid response to China’s plan to add innovation and anti-corruption to the G-20 agenda is thus unsurprising. Hangzhou will be about China showing its potential as a global leader. India will neither obstruct nor support.

Despite the slowdown in the Chinese economy, the tone that China is striking at the G20 summit in Hangzhou is bold. Throughout 2016, as the summit chair, China has advanced a relatively ambitious agenda compared to preceding G20 summits, and it is doing so right into the Hangzhou gathering.

To some, especially those who emphasize that the sheen is coming off China’s “rise” and that its domestic economy is slowing, the rhetoric and reality are out of sync. Those who focus on China’s slowing domestic growth as a gauge to predict its global diplomatic behavior might assume that Beijing would choose to set more modest goals for the G20 Hangzhou summit it is chairing. But it is not working out this way. Part of it is about diplomatic process, and the G20 mechanisms and the plethora of pre-summit consultations. It is also about how the summit plays domestically.

Locked into the path it has already been pursuing for the past year in the G20 presidency, China continues to advance an agenda for the global economy and development that has some fairly ambitious elements, especially in the areas of green finance and green bonds as tools in efforts to reverse climate change. It also seeks to broaden the role of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) as a multilateral asset option for non-official and official investors—an item also on the BRICS agenda. (Outside watchers thought China’s efforts to push for a greater role for the SDR, after the 2008-2009 financial crisis, was dead. Not quite.)

However, the above are the relatively easy parts. These goals align closely with China’s own domestic economic and developmental needs—including cleaning up its own environment, and pushing ahead with financial sector reforms and innovation, as promised at the Party’s Third Plenum.

Where China faces more challenges in the Hangzhou process is reaching what diplomats call “shared statements” (consensus on paper) with its G20 counterparts, especially from the advanced economies, in regards to measures to preventing further protectionism in the global economy, and further expanding the scope of free trade. China wants a commitment to global economic openness from the G20. As the Brexit exemplified, and as seen in North America and Europe, domestic political winds around the world push increasingly against policies in support of “globalization”—which is to say, the free trade and economic integration formula of the last three decades that enabled China’s own rapid economic growth.

This is tough as Beijing faces criticism for restrictions it places on foreign investment across its borders and into its state-owned enterprises (SOEs)—even as its own outbound investment into other economies surges, as well as on its demands for technology transfers and research and development (R&D) support from foreign corporations. (Notably, in the first six months of this year, China was the global leader in greenfield FDI, surpassing the United States.)

China also has set high expectations for outcomes at Hangzhou for its Southern friends. It issued special invitations to Hangzhou to African representatives—Chad (African Union chair), Senegal, Egypt, as well as the chair of the New Partnership for Africa's Development—along with, from Asia, Kazakhstan, Laos (as ASEAN chair), Thailand (G77 chair), and also Singapore. Beijing oriented the G20 Development Working Group toward how the G20 can provide guidance and leadership to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for 2030. Its goal in Hangzhou is to hammer out a “G20 Action Plan” for the U.N. 2030 SDG agenda. In addition to leveraging the substantial international commitments it has already made in infrastructure financing, including in the AIIB and the New Silk Road Fund (and especially at the bilateral level), China is directing attention back to the World Bank. It hopes everyone at Hangzhou will sign onto a “global infrastructure connectivity alliance” initiative, with the World Bank as the Secretariat for the new “GICA.”

This is an ambitious diplomatic agenda. But how many of China’s summit goals are there for their rhetorical impact versus achieving tangible commitments? How much is diplomatic theater and how much is aimed at achieving real deliverables?

This summit is unlikely to see Beijing itself writing big checks given the large commitments it has already made around the world and its slowing domestic economy. As in other countries, China’s leaders have to consider how domestic stakeholders will receive the messages from the Hangzhou summit. The fine balance for China, then, at Hangzhou will be how to appear pro-active and bold, but not to over-commit for its domestic audience. A tricky balance, as politicians in the West can attest to.

We can expect quite a bit from China, particularly compared to last year’s G20 process hosted by Turkey, but we shouldn’t get carried away. This is the G20 after all—a talk shop. Moreover, as a few of the other commentators have suggested, China is an awkward host.

As China does with major events, it has thrown itself into the G20 and is putting on such a huge show that it is closing down Hangzhou for the festivities. Substantively, too, there will be a lot to show for their efforts, with discussion and statements on ways to generate economic growth, limit protectionism, avoid competitive currency devaluations, strengthen the international financial architecture, facilitate international direct investment, promote inclusive growth through expanding infrastructure, and address climate change. With incremental progress on such a wide range of areas, China’s presidency is a living embodiment of the call to have China be a “responsible stakeholder.”

At the same time, we need to be realistic about what is possible in Hangzhou. To put it mildly, China is an awkward G20 host.

One of the biggest ways China could contribute to raising global economic growth would be to address its overcapacity problem head-on in infrastructure-related sectors and liberalize market access by private and foreign companies in high-tech and advanced services, including telecom, finance, healthcare, education, and logistics. But China is making only incremental progress in both areas, and it has persuaded its G20 colleagues to accept the notion that the overcapacity problem is caused both by over-production in China and insufficient demand abroad. But there is no way the world economy, no matter how fast it grew, could absorb all of China’s overcapacity, which is essentially the result of a financial system that acts like a water spigot that cannot be turned off. Global growth would also be aided by China reducing barriers to imports and direct investment, but these steps have been very slow in coming. China has complained about the politicization of investment reviews in the United States, but according to the OECD, China maintains one of the world’s most restrictive investment regimes in the world.

China’s more intensive statist turn under Xi is also ironically highlighted in the choice of host city. Compared to the country as a whole, Zhejiang province’s economy operates according to market principles and is dominated by the private sector. Nationally, just under 40 percent of assets in industry are in the hands of state-owned enterprises (SOEs); in Zhejiang, the figure is around 15 percent. And its capital city of Hangzhou has thrived because the government has gotten out of the way. Xi Jinping would know better than almost anyone, as he was Party chief for five years (2002-2007). Yet since he’s taken over the reins in Beijing, raindrops of reform in finance, the fiscal system, and a few other areas have been overtaken by a wave of renewed government intervention, with massive funding for high-tech and continued support for inefficient SOEs. The contrast between Beijing and Hangzhou could not be more stark.

China is creating history this weekend. But even though leading a multi-sided dialogue and crafting vision statements has been a monumental task, the truly hard work will come when the meeting adjourns. Perhaps the most enduring legacy of China’s G20 presidency would be if it would fully embrace the spirit of the agreements achieved in Hangzhou.

While anti-Japan sentiment in China has drawn considerable attention as a possible factor constraining Beijing’s Japan policy, less attention has been paid to deepening anti-China sentiment in Japan as a factor shaping Japan’s China policy. If Abe and Xi meet in Hangzhou, Xi will not be the only leader in the room facing a public demanding that its government take a hard line in bilateral relations.

A poll published by the Nikkei Shimbun, Japan’s leading financial newspaper, on August 28 illustrates what could be described as the Japanese public’s “reflexive distrust” of China. The poll asked respondents about China’s recent incursions around the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands:

There have been successive cases of Chinese ships entering Japan’s territorial waters around the Senkaku islands in Okinawa Prefecture. On the one hand, the government has protested against the penetration of territorial waters but on the other hand its policy is to seek dialogue with China. What do you think of this? [Author’s translation]

Of the respondents, 55 percent said the government should “take a stronger position,” compared with 37 percent who believed the government should “stress more dialogue.”

Broader surveys of Japanese attitudes towards China show that hostility has hardened. For example, the FY2015 edition of the Cabinet Office’s annual poll regarding Japan’s foreign relations found that for the fourth straight year more than 80 percent of respondents said they have little or no affinity for China. Over the past decade, an ever-smaller share of Japanese citizens have been willing to admit to positive feelings about China. The 2015 edition of the joint Japan-China public opinion survey co-sponsored by Japanese think tank Genron NPO showed even less affinity for China: 88.8 percent said they viewed China unfavorably, compared with only 10.6 percent who viewed it favorably.

The Genron NPO poll shows that the main drivers of Japanese hostility are the intractable issues that have divided the two governments: 55.1 percent cited China’s criticism of Japan over historical issues; 53 percent named China’s “selfish” quest for resources; 47.9 percent named China’s disregard for international rules; and 46.4 percent cited the territorial dispute in the East China Sea.

It is perhaps encouraging that Japanese attitudes towards China are driven by China’s actions, not its fundamental qualities. Moreover, there are signs that the Japanese people continue to hope for better relations with China. When asked what should be discussed at a bilateral summit, the by-far most popular response (43.6 percent) among Japanese respondents was “a broad ranging discussion on how to improve relations between both countries.”

At the same time, however, while Japanese citizens appear to want better relations with China, they also are pessimistic about the outlook for the Sino-Japanese relationship. While a plurality (42.5 percent) expect relations will still the same, nearly a quarter (24.7 percent) expect the relationship to worsen, nearly twice as many as respondents who expect it will improve (12.7 percent). Meanwhile, 58 percent said they “wish to have peaceful coexistence and prosperity” but are “not sure if they will be realized.” Finally, given that the issues driving Japanese hostility—history issues, China’s search for resources abroad, and its dispute with Japan—are all issues on which Beijing is either unwilling or unable to change course, there is little reason to expect the Japanese public to view China more favorably in the coming years.

The Japanese public’s suspicions of China are unmistakably shaping the context in which Abe and other officials function, especially given the decline of the so-called “China school” in Japan’s foreign ministry and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which played an important role maintaining formal and informal ties with Beijing. Instead, Japanese leaders increasingly have little to lose from “standing up” to China in disputes. This does not guarantee conflict, but the hardening of Japanese attitudes towards China will make it more difficult to resolve fundamental disputes and devote attention to building a more constructive relationship.

I picked up the newspaper this morning to read the headline, “U.S. and China Set Aside Rifts for Climate Accord.” Especially as someone who frets about the world in which her young children will live, this is certainly welcome news. Yet deeper in the front section were accounts of extremely strict media control surrounding the G20: “In six years of covering the White House, I had never seen a foreign host prevent the news media from watching Mr. Obama disembark [from Air Force One].” While I understand Chen Weihua’s point that “the G20 is foremost a forum for the global economy,” human rights is not a distraction when the People’s Republic of China (P.R.C.) government itself makes an issue of freedom of expression, assembly, and other internationally recognized rights. These rights are enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that China signed in 1998 but still has yet to ratify.

As I have argued elsewhere, not every interaction between the U.S. and P.R.C. governments must have human rights as the focal point. For example, addressing human rights in the context of exchange rate policies would require an artificial linkage. To use the Chinese idiom, adding human rights to the discussion could at worst be like “drawing feet on a snake” (画蛇添足): changing the effect by adding something superfluous. The discussion would be about exchange rates and human rights, not the human rights implications of exchange rates. But when human rights are inextricable from an issue, then human rights should also be inextricable from bilateral conversations regarding that issue.

Accordingly, I would add “clarity” to Sophie Richardson’s call for “tenacity, confidence, and unity” when responding to China’s conduct with respect to human rights. The U.S. government should formulate a clear plan for articulating how human rights connect to items on the bilateral agenda and then for taking concrete steps to effectuate that plan in a true whole-of-government approach.

For instance, anti-corruption efforts are an integral part of the G20 under its Anti-Corruption Working Group. As raised by Richardson, Beijing has increasingly pressured foreign governments to return fugitives wanted under operations “Sky Net” and “Fox Hunt.” The U.S. has allowed limited repatriations despite its longtime refusal to enter into an extradition treaty with China because of deep-seated concerns about the treatment of those people returned to the Party disciplinary and criminal justice processes. Raising human rights when asked to repatriate fugitives is not like drawing extraneous feet on a snake. Quite the contrary: failure to raise human rights is like omitting paws when drawing a panda. The rights of the accused cannot be excised from international law enforcement cooperation. The U.S. needs to stand firm for its obligations to protect the human rights of all individuals—even accused criminals—and be prepared to withstand pushback from the P.R.C. government. The sky will not fall if Sky Net fails to succeed.