Xi-Obama Summit and Sino-US Power Politics
United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
September 7, 2016
Executive Summary: During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Chinese mainland threw open its doors to the outside world. During the Hangzhou G20 summit, it offered an even grander view of the Mainland. The heads of the world's top 20 economies, along with leaders of the major international economic organizations, gathered in Hangzhou. This summit is considered the most important international conference since the CCP founded the PRC. It announced to the world that China had arrived.
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During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Chinese mainland threw open its doors to the outside world. During the Hangzhou G20 summit, it offered an even grander view of the Mainland. The heads of the world's top 20 economies, along with leaders of the major international economic organizations, gathered in Hangzhou. This summit is considered the most important international conference since the CCP founded the PRC. It announced to the world that China had arrived.
When it first joined the G20, the Mainland merely wanted to be a respected partner. It did not expect to become its leader. At the time, Beijing thought the G20 might be a Western trap, intended to force Mainland China take on more responsibility for global governance, in order to slow its internal development. But in 2012, when Xi Jinping came to power, the Mainland's low profile strategy changed to one of "showing the world what China can do”. This raised eyebrows in neighboring nations and alarmed the United States. It also made Mainland China more actively involved in international affairs. As Xi Jinping said earlier during the Enterprise Summit, China's development has benefited from the international community, therefore China is willing to provide the international community with more public goods.
Consider the international situation. The Mainland government is one of the few governments willing and able to promote global economic and trade relations. The 2008 financial crisis was not that long ago. Global economic growth remains sluggish. This year the projected growth rate is a mere 2.9%. The Mainland is the world's economic engine. It constitutes 26.4% of the world economy. Its development affects the prosperity of the entire world. Therefore the Mainland's development strategy, including the One Belt, One Road (OBOR), the AIIB, RCEP, and FTAs with Japan and South Korea, are matters of global concern. As the host of the Hangzhou summit, the Mainland made economic growth its theme.
The summit sidelines included over 20 bilateral summits. The most notable was Xi Jinping's meeting with Barack Obama. When Obama's plane arrived, negligence on the part of security and ground personnel forced him to exit Air Force One from the rear of the aircraft, leading to a minor flareup. The White House tried to explain that it was a careless mistake. But the media pounced on the issue and alleged that a rising China deliberately "belittled" the US.
In fact, Beijing had no desire to embarrass the United States. On the contrary, the Chinese mainland deliberately avoided giving the impression that an emerging power was challenging a current power. This was why Beijing arranged for an informal meeting between Xi and Obama. It wanted to establish a "new great power relationship”. The Mainland deliberately chose the Xihu State Guest House for the meeting. This was where US President Richard Nixon and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai signed the Sino-US Joint Communiques in 1972. The Mainland was deliberately reminding everyone that the Cold War between the two nations was over, and that relations between them were already normalized.
Obama is an outgoing president. Therefore the Xi-Obama meeting will be the last meeting between the two. The Mainland hopes to revisit and summarize recent Sino-US relations. More importantly, the United States will have a new president by the end of this year. Beijing hopes to stabilize Sino-US relations before that.
Some think Xi Jinping need not concern himself with an outgoing president. Sino-US issues are complex. They need not be resolved during the summit. By contrast, Obama needs Mainland Chinese cooperation to secure his legacy. That being the case, Beijing need not cooperate with foreign policies not in the Mainland's best interests, such as Asian-Pacific rebalancing and the TPP. But it will certainly be willing to cooperate with policies in both sides' interests, such as the Paris Climate Accord.
As a result, on the eve of the G20 summit, Obama and Xi Jinping each ratified the Paris Climate Accord and submitted it to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. This drew global attention. For this agreement to enter into force, it must be approved by those nations responsible for 55% of the world's carbon emissions. The United States and Mainland China alone contribute 40% of all emissions. This constitutes a giant step forward for global warming. Obama's delight was palpable.
The Hangzhou summit was a golden opportunity for the two major powers to meet. Mainland China set the stage, and gave Asian-Pacific nations the opportunity to make new choices. Former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating said Australia needs a new foreign policy that responds to China's inevitable rise, and the United States' change from a dominant power, to a power that must compromise. Keating's words echoed the sentiments of many nations.
Taiwan was not invited to the meeting. That may be why the media and the government focused on the Xi-Obama summit. They wondered whether the two men discussed Taiwan. They asked the United States to make clear whether Taiwan's interests were harmed. As everyone knows, the global situation following the Hangzhou summit is significantly changed. Taiwan must look beyond the old Washington/Beijing/Taipei relationship. Only then can it accurately perceive the changing global situation.