Hangzhou G20: Display of Opulence with Limited Achievement?
By Wen Xin Lim

Hangzhou G20: Display of Opulence with Limited Achievement?

Sep. 08, 2016  |     |  0 comments

Lauded as a great success by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Hangzhou G20 Summit came to a conclusion on September 5, 2016 with its final communique confirming the necessary consensus for the G20’s long-term vision.

Initiated in 1999 after the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the G20 Summit today involves 19 member states (including the G7, the BRICS, and other emerging and developed countries) and the European Union (EU) to promote high-level discussions of policy issues pertaining to economic stability. Before 2008, the summit only involved the Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors to discuss global financial challenges and world economic development. In 2008, the first G20 Leaders’ Summit was convened in response to the global financial crisis.

China’s G20 summit has been closely watched by many people as they have high expectation for China’s G20 presidency. The chance to host a G20 summit is a seal of international approval that recognizes China’s convening power to lift up the global economy. From the APEC Beijing Summit in 2014 to the G20 Hangzhou Summit in 2016, China has demonstrated its ability to chair international forums and set the tone and agenda for the global economy. By taking leadership of a global governance institution such as the G20, China proved itself to be a responsible and dutiful player. 

Big Show with Little Achievement

Like how all major conferences end up being a talk shop, it was challenging for the G20 to transcend that very nature to translate talk into action.

With this year’s summit focusing on sustainable development and an inclusive economy, a record number of guests from the developing world had been invited to increase the representation and voices of developing countries and emerging markets. Yet, the pressing concerns of many emerging countries were not addressed.

Some observers opined that instead of a G20 summit, this year’s summit clearly witnessed a G2-dominating trend with Presidents Xi and Obama spending three and a half hours talking before both took an evening garden stroll. In comparison, Xi and Abe talked for only 30 minutes on the sidelines of the G20 summit after a one-year hiatus. Russia and the US also failed to reach an agreement on ending the violence in Syria.

Despite Xi’s efforts in urging leaders to avoid “empty talk” during the G20, the only significant achievement from this summit was the agreement between China and the US, the world’s two biggest carbon emitters, to ratify the Paris climate change accord.  This only notable outcome however is still not guaranteed with President Obama’s departure from office in January 2017. While US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has publicly voiced her preference in supporting the Paris agreement, hot-headed Donald Trump on the other hand holds a bizarre climate belief which might leave the agreement between Xi and Obama in vain. Also, the timeline for when the agreement must be ratified was not clearly stipulated. 

A total of 48 points were listed in the G20’s final communique calling for freer trade, more innovation, and greater energy efficiency, but concrete plans and steps were lacking to achieve these goals.

Although there were promises and obligatory reassuring words from the global leaders to tackle the world’s declining economic trend, to counteract excess capacity in the steel industry, and to seek a closer partnership between Britain and the European Union (EU), these will just turn out to be a pipe dream without further implementation. Other challenges that were discussed on the sidelines of the summit, including joint efforts to address the Syrian crisis, refugees, terrorism, and migration, remained without conclusive decisions.

Economist Mohamed A. El-Erian said, “Most advanced economies are dealing with anti-establishment movements that disrupt traditional political arrangements and make it harder to reach agreement on economic governance issues.” He highlighted political polarization in the US, electoral troubles in Germany, Italy, and Spain, and the emerging consequences of Brexit, in the list of concerns. “Watching this paralysis, very few emerging economies have the willingness and ability to move forward on their own — and for good reasons. Many of the mentioned policy steps require coordinated action; and some of the measures that can be carried out without such coordination, individual action could end up being counterproductive,” he added.

Definitely a Great Success for China

From China’s perspective, the summit was a success well before the formal commencement of the event.


To ensure the summit was impeccable, the efforts that were put in place for preparations were jaw-dropping. It was bewildering and astonishing to many observers how China managed to mobilize the 9 million residents of Hangzhou for the momentous event. A seven-day public holiday was granted with RMB 10 billion paid out to Hangzhou residents in tourism vouchers to visit other cities in Zhejiang province during the G20. Residents who lived near the conference centre where the world leaders assembled were asked to leave their apartments, leaving entire neighborhoods deserted. Like how the sky was cleared for the 2008 Olympic Games and 2014 APEC Summit, Hangzhou enjoyed blue skies with pristine air during the two-day summit as factories around Hangzhou were commanded to halt production.


While the tighter security and refurbishment projects beforehand had elicited more frowns than smiles as they brought inconvenience to the public, the People’s Daily reported that 95 percent of the respondents felt proud to host the summit while 86.2 percent felt happier.

Undeniably, the hosting of the high-profile G20 summit in Hangzhou has greatly boosted the local identity. As the city inherited the glamor of being the ancient capital of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127–1279), it showcased its beauty and fame throughout the G20 event, and was hailed as one of the most beautiful cities in China. Specifically, the lavish, picturesque, and magnificent evening gala at the West Lake, directed by Chinese director Zhang Yimou, combined classical Chinese characteristics with Western elements through an integration of both Eastern and Western art forms. It thrust Hangzhou into the global spotlight and showcased China’s creativity and holographic technology. Utensils used during the gala dinner which incorporated cultural elements from Hangzhou have also greatly bolstered China’s cultural reputation.

Source: Sina English website

Now that the G20 Summit has concluded, experts estimate that the hype will bring no less than RMB 50 billion to Hangzhou in the long run as it has laid a good foundation for the city to host future important events. Hangzhou is expected to host the 2018 FINA World Swimming Championships in 2018 and the Asian Games in 2022.

While many have hailed China’s contribution to the G20 summit, the reality is not as simple. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde warned before the summit that 2016 would mark the fifth straight year with global GDP growth below its long-term average of 3.7 percent, and the world could fall into a “low-growth trap.” The 2016 G20 summit, apart from boosting the confidence of its host country, seems to have outlived its usefulness, and offers no more than platitudes with no effective remedy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *