Adjusting Directions and Priorities of the G20 Towards the Future

The G20, a key platform of global governance, should constantly adjust itself to the changing world, and in particular, respond quickly to issues relating to the future of humanity. 

It is always helpful when forecasting future development to look back on why and how a particular situation arose. Global governance is a case in point. The term refers to the joint participation of governments, international organizations and civil society in the coordination, arrangement and management of major global issues regarding the peace and development of mankind.

The theory of global governance was first proposed in 1990 by German statesman Willy Brandt. Two years later, the Commission on Global Governance was initiated by 28 globally renowned experts. The commission published Our Global Neighborhood in 1995, which formulated the concept and values of global governance, and explored the relations between global governance and security, economic globalization, the United Nations reform and the rule of law.

The outbreak of the Asian financial crisis in 1997 exposed fatal flaws in financial systems at both international and national levels. To fix such problems required the concerted efforts of all countries.

Therefore, in Cologne, Germany in June 1999, financial ministers of the G8, the eight industrialized countries, proposed to create an international forum that took in 12 other major economies. The forum, later known as G20, aims to shun financial turmoil by enabling multilateral dialogue between all stakeholders on international economic and monetary policies to help stabilize the global financial and monetary systems.

After the international financial crisis that crippled the financial world in 2008, the G20 was upgraded from a ministerial forum to a summit of state leaders, and the first summit was held in Washington DC in November of that year.

Bearing in mind the background, we know that the term global governance was coined to address common issues that emerged in the globalization process, and the G20 mechanism was created to deal with financial problems in the context of global governance.

However, global governance keeps evolving along with the profound changes in globalization and global mechanisms. Compared to 20 years ago or even two years ago, calls for protectionism and unilateralism have risen and this counters the trend of world development and impairs interests of all countries. Even worse, they will catalyze bigger problems – a distorted world order, the confrontation of big powers, geopolitical conflicts, etc. – that concern peace and stability, fundamental issues of humankind.

The G20, a key platform of global governance, should constantly adjust itself to the changing world, and in particular, respond quickly to issues relating to the future of humanity.

At present, the G20 has many distractions, deviating the concept of global governance from its priority. It is imperative for the G20 to clarify and focus on its missions, and chart the future course of development. In my view, the G20 should give priority to the following five aspects.

First, safeguarding multilateralism. This is a political mission of the organization.

Rising populism, protectionism, unilateralism and bellicose military strategies seen in some countries will undermine the global economy, trigger rivalry between big nations and exacerbate geological conflicts. In fact, a multi-polar world, economic globalization and diverse cultures are in the best interest of all nations, bound to prevail.

The G20 should hold high the banner of multilateralism, a consensus reached by most countries, both developing and developed ones. The G20 should express its voice unequivocally that it will defend peace and stability in a changing world, fight against any form of unilateralism that deviates from the UN Charter, and champion free trade, globalization and human development.

Second, accelerating reforms in international mechanisms. International mechanisms and rules should be adjusted since the global political landscape has altered. On one hand, the rise of emerging economies calls for a fairer and more reasonable international order. On the other hand, the US is walking away from a range of multilateral and bilateral agreements, discarding the current US-led order. Therefore, it is urgent to reform the existing international mechanisms. The G20 should push forward reforms in the UN, the WTO and other institutions to strike a balance in a shifting landscape.

Third, promoting regional economic integration. Regional economic integration conforms with the trend of globalization. Speeding up negotiations on regional free-trade agreements is urgent, in response to the counter-trend activities such as setting up trade barriers. G20 member states, all major economies, should facilitate regional free-trade agreements like the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RECP), and promote the established agreements like the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTTP).

Fourth, drumming up aid to developing nations. The development gap is still widening. It is reported that the richest 85 people own as much wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest combined; that is to say, the 85 persons have taken the lion’s share, about 47 percent of the world wealth. The uneven development has come to the fore in the era of globalization, becoming an increasingly thorny issue in global politics and economy.

Eradicating poverty is the ultimate mission of the UN, and a prerequisite to reducing international conflicts and stemming terrorism. Therefore the G20 needs specific and effective action plans in this regard, such as infrastructure, investment and finance, education and industrialization in the developing world.

Last but not least, protecting the environment. The future of humanity is at stake when the environment continues to deteriorate, through industrialization and resource-exploitation growth model. Even worse, the US announced its plan to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, a heavy blow to global environmental protection. In response, the G20 should make the environmental issue a priority and facilitate it at different levels from agenda setting, mechanism arrangement to concrete actions.


Zou Zhibo is senior research fellow and vice-director of Institute of World Economics and Politics (IWEP), Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The author contributed this article to China Watch exclusively. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of China Focus.

Exclusively from China Watch