China flexed its muscles at the G20 summit held in Hangzhou, seen as a success in terms of content and logistics, although some details illustrated the remaining gaps between Beijing and its Western partners when it comes to managing an international gathering.
Summit conclusions are like Christmas trees: everyone tries to hang their balls on them. But the trees may get overburdened when the summit involves the world’s twenty most influential countries, and is hosted by China.
World leaders aimed at giving real meaning to the 7000-plus word statement sealed in Hangzhou on 5 September. The communiqué dwarfed the conclusions normally adopted by EU leaders (2000 words in the last European Council). But the quantity also came with quality, as diplomats were satisfied with the final result.
A long laundry list of pledges could have become a trap for the developing and developed nations, as they often fail to meet their commitments. However, a study released by the University of Toronto during the G20 summit showed that the restrictive club did it quite well since its last meeting.
A compliance report of the 2015 G20 summit held in Antalya showed a 77% compliance with the promises made last year. “If the G20 can improve its performance on delivering on its promises, it may validate its claim for legitimacy as a global governance institution,” the report concluded.
The G20 commitment on refugees scored an average of 75%. This figure does not mean that there have been significant improvements in dealing with the unprecedented numbers of refugees, explains Sarah Scott. A mild strengthening of the same policies being implemented is enough to tick the box.
The long communiqué exhausted the national sherpas involved in the negotiations, while some admitted to the “complexity” of the text. Diplomats were not the only ones struggling to find their way. Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared to be lost in translation when Chinese President, Xi Jinping, welcomed her to the summit as he was trying to tell her where to stand for the family picture.
In order to overcome any potential language barrier, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker opted to give his host one of his famous kisses when he was welcomed by President Xi. But Juncker did not receive the same kind of response that he is using to getting in Europe. Instead, Xi offered the best of his frozen smiles.
In contrast with President Xi’s rigid stance, an energetic legion of smiley volunteers helped international press and delegations during the two-day summit. More than 100,000 people had registered only in the first months of this year to assist during the international gathering, although only around 4,000 were selected through a strict process, according to Chinese official media.
These volunteers, together with thousands of soldiers, policemen, neighbourhood patrols and other security forces were almost the only souls in the surrounding areas of the international expo center in Hangzhou, where 9 million people live. Most of the city’s retailers remained closed as the authorities spent an estimated €1.3 billion on travel vouchers to clean the roads of vehicles for the official motorcades.
Fewer cars were allowed on the roads, and factories were closed for over a week, helping to bring a clean sky to welcome the global leaders to the polluted country. But the security protocols also forced the closure of laundries around the city, with puzzled hotel workers unable to explain what had happened.
The Chinese government welcomed the large contingent of international journalists with a press pack full of gifts, including silk scarfs, all in a Hedgren bag, a Brussels-based maker of designer bags that was acquired in 2011 by League Co, a Chinese company from the region where the G20 is taking place.
The best present for the international press was the access given to Google, Gmail, Twitter and Facebook, all of them normally blocked by the country´s security services. However, Chinese journalists could not enjoy the same privilege, as login codes given to foreign journalists did not allow them to use the same services.
As Ning Fang wrote in China’s Democracy Path, “Asymmetric information… objectively restrict the scope and ability of people’s political participation.” And there is no better way to maintain the asymmetric information than limiting citizens’ access to the Internet. Therefore the book, offered in the G20 Media Center, justified “hierarchical political participation” as “a correct way” for “orderly political participation”.
China´s democracy may also mean “my way or highway”, as the US delegation noted shortly after Air Force One landed in Hangzhou. A US press assistant argued with a Chinese official as the White House pool was forbidden to get closer to President Barack Obama. “This is our flight and this is our president,” the US press aide said. “This is our airport and this is our country,” the Chinese official replied.