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Editorial: China Can Contribute More in Global Affairs While Sticking to Domestic Development

Both cheer and fear were in evidence at this year’s annual Group of 20 summit when the curtains opened at the G-20 forum in Hamburg last week. Despite positive signs about global economic recovery, leaders offered divided opinion on a number of issues, posing fresh challenges for global governance. The G-20 summit itself is also undergoing a change in focus, shifting from economic and financial matters to a broader range of issues.

In the wake of the global financial crisis, the G-20 has become the most important dialogue mechanism for global leaders to promote international economic cooperation. It has played a crucial role in forging joint efforts to drag the global economy out of danger. But as growth revives, member nations have begun to divert their attention away from the common goal of fighting the crisis. The U.S. pullback from multilateral cooperation has further deepened that global divergence.

Germany hosted this year’s summit under the theme of “Shaping an Interconnected World,” with its main agenda focusing on building economic resilience, improving sustainability and assuming greater responsibility. Topics on the table at this year’s summit covered a much wider range than in previous years, reflecting the expanding vision and responsibility of the G-20 while also making it more difficult to form a consensus.

The challenges facing the G-20 shed light on the complexities of the world. With an increasingly inward-looking U.S. and a more-divided Europe, many have asked whether China will step up and fill the emerging shortfall in global leadership. It is time for China to consider carefully and map out strategies for tackling major international problems, including some less relevant to itself, such as the global refugee crisis, and take greater responsibility as expected of it.

The global economy is showing signs of recovery but risks of a further slowdown still remain. The International Monetary Fund said before the G-20 meeting that the global economy is seeing an upswing, and both trade and GDP growth were expected to improve this year. But it also warned of potential risks to growth from protectionist policies and a failure to cooperate in areas such as climate change.

The U.S. economy is reviving steadily, but uncertainties stemming from the Trump administration’s protectionist policies are apparent. The eurozone is also better off, but there are still challenges from its policies on refugees and in its banking sector. At the same time, many emerging economies are being tested by their own growth transformation. A sustained global economic recovery requires coordination among countries to consolidate the positive policy effects while reducing the spillover from negative ones.

In the long run, structural reform offer a more fundamental solution for countries to enhance the resilience of their economies. But the pace of reform in many countries has slowed over the past years as pressures from the financial crisis ease and resistance rises from those hurt by reforms. But stalled reforms can also damage economies further, and it requires the determination and wisdom of global leaders to push reform efforts forward.

At the Hamburg summit, discussions about climate change, the refugee crisis, anti-terrorism measures and the development of Africa drew wide interest, indicating that the broadening scope of the focus of global governance is expanding beyond traditional economic issues. But it also poses greater challenges to coordinating efforts globally. For example, the disagreement between the U.S. and European leaders on climate policy is adding more complexity to such coordination, especially after the Trump administration decided to pull out of the Paris accord.

Adapting to the new environment of global cooperation is a challenge for all major countries, including China. Pursuing agreement and practical cooperation while respecting differences will likely be the most workable strategy. China should try its hardest to promote global cooperation while sticking to its own long-term development strategy.

Taking concrete action is more useful than entering into a war of words, and countries should forge collaboration through consensus rather than focusing on disagreements. For instance, finance ministers and central bank governors from the G-20 in a March meeting dropped a long-standing endorsement of free trade by removing the phrase “we will resist all forms of protectionism” from the meeting’s communiqué due to opposition from the United States. But this does not stop leaders from promoting free trade in their day-to-day policymaking. The pace of globalization may be slowing, but it won’t be reversed. China has shown its commitment to free trade remains unchanged by further opening up its markets and creating a fairer business environment for foreign investors.

Countries can also seek coordination in issues with less disagreement. At this year’s G-20 summit, Germany proposed collective action to encourage companies of member countries to invest in Africa to boost development on the continent. China will be able to coordinate its “One Belt, One Road” initiative with this proposal to make its contribution to promoting global cooperation through inclusive development.

As the U.S. continues to retreat from multilateral cooperation, many expect China to step up and fill the gap. But as a developing country, China’s top priority must still be to continue with domestic reform and development despite its growing influence on the global stage. The best way for China to assume its leadership is to set a good example to other countries, and take more responsibility for global affairs only when it fits with its own capacity and development strategy.

The growing complexity of global governance requires policymakers from China and other countries to enhance their adaptability and flexibility. The spirit if practical cooperation has never been more important for G-20 members. This year’s summit in Hamburg has made important commitments, and if these commitments can be concretely delivered regardless of existing disagreements, the G-20 will step up to become a more open, capable and tolerant platform for global governance.

Hu Shuli is the editor-in-chief of Caixin Media.

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