G20 host China faces tall order of keeping controversy off the agenda

Beijing (dpa) – This year’s G20 summit in China follows a summer of jolts to the market caused by pendular news events – not least of all Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and an attempted coup in Turkey.

But the hosts of this year’s Group of 20 summit, taking place from September 4-5 in China’s eastern city of Hangzhou, are determined to keep things strictly business.

China has its work cut out for it in avoiding thorny subjects. The country itself is currently embroiled in its own geopolitical dispute over contested territories in the South China Sea, and has come under fire from other world economies for its low-priced steel exports.

Nonetheless, Chinese organizers will want to steer discussion away from topics they deem controversial, experts say.

“China wants the discussion to be focused on, even confined to, the world economy with no sensitive political issues discussed, especially current disputes,” Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at the People’s University in Beijing, told dpa.

The summit will be attended by leaders of the world’s largest economies, including US President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and British Prime Minister Theresa May.

While Beijing is loath to focus on territorial disputes in the South China Sea, such unsavoury themes are expected to come up during bilateral discussions on the summit’s sidelines.

“As the G20 is an economic themed conference, it is clearly contrary to the original intention of the summit if [other countries] raise the South China Sea issue,” researcher Xing Hua of the China Institute of International Studies, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs think tank, told dpa.

“China always considered the South China Sea issue a regional issue, which should be resolved by diplomatic solutions with regional countries and should not be considered an international issue,” said Guo Xiangang, the institute’s director.

An arbitration tribunal set up in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea recently upheld a complaint by the Philippines about contested islets in the sea, which holds key shipping lanes and is believed to be rich in mineral and marine resources.

China’s excess production of steel and aluminium is another topic that the summit would rather avoid, according to the institute.

However, US officials have listed that among the issues other nations hope to discuss with China.

The European Union and the US have also called for additional protections from dumping and for China to reduce excess capacities, which have put pressure on world markets.

“Overcapacity is not only happening in China, but also in quite a lot of other countries,” Xing argued. “China is making great efforts to solve the problem. What else is expected?”

So what does China want to talk about at this year’s G20? Working together on managing the fallout from Brexit, fighting global climate change, and strengthening cooperation on anti-terrorist and refugee issues are all approved items on the agenda, Guo said.

A July statement from the G20 said members were “well positioned to proactively address the potential economic and financial consequences stemming from the UK referendum”.

However, G20 finance ministers and central bank chiefs failed to propose any concrete joint initiatives following their meeting in the south-west Chinese city of Chengdu in July.

It is unclear whether further action will be discussed during the G20 summit.

The meetings will take place at the Hangzhou International Expo Centre, a sprawling complex that was only completed in April.

Organizers have gone to lengths to ensure the setting will showcase Hangzhou without the traffic congestion and polluted air for which Chinese cities are infamous.

The neigbouring metropolis of Shanghai will stop or limit production in 255 factories from August to September and no trucks, tractors or vehicles carrying hazardous chemicals will be allowed to enter Hangzhou during the summit, according to state media reports.

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