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How the United States and China Can Strengthen the G-20, and Vice Versa

President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao

SOURCE: AP/Charles Dharapak

President Barack Obama meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, November 11, 2010.

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See also: US-China Study Group on G-20 Reform: Final Report by the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, the Center for American Progress, and the Stanley Foundation

Last year the Center for American Progress, the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, and the Stanley Foundation convened a study group of 23 leading U.S. and Chinese experts to discuss and debate the role of the bilateral relationship in strengthening the Group of 20 developed and developing nations, or G-20. The discussions also centered on the role this still-young institution for global governance plays in the U.S.-China bilateral relationship.

The Group of 20 is the world’s premier institution for multilateral cooperation to tackle key global economic challenges. Together, G-20 member countries produce 86 percent of total world economic output, comprise two-thirds of the world’s population, and account for 84 percent of all fossil fuel emissions.

While the G-20 originally met at the finance ministers’ level, President George W. Bush made it a forum for leaders when confronted with the global financial crisis in 2008. Now more than ever, the economic trials facing national leaders have roots in increasing global economic interconnectedness and mutual interdependence. From restarting economic growth and addressing mounting inequality; to ensuring stability in the international financial system; to devising solutions to environmental and regional security concerns, the solutions to the world’s challenges increasingly demand multilateral cooperation and coordination.

The benefits from such cooperation are substantial. Since 2008 the leaders of the G-20—which represents the 19 largest economies in the world plus the European Union—have met six times. Some important achievements include:

IMF economists estimate that a G-20 coordinated response to international economic rebalancing—policies to shrink trade surpluses and current account surpluses and deficits among members—could result in 58 million more jobs and 3.5 times the economic growth worldwide by 2017.

The United States and China, as the world’s two largest economies—with trade between the two countries amounting to more than 20 percent of the world’s total—share a special stake in working to strengthen the G-20 as a multilateral institution for global economic governance.[1] As they together account for 38 percent of the G-20’s international economic imbalances, both countries also share a special responsibility for ensuring and improving the G-20’s efficacy at sustaining economic policy coordination.[2]

The discussions of the American and Chinese experts—including former U.S. government officials and experts from some of China’s leading institutions and universities—culminated in the group agreeing to 20 recommendations and proposals to strengthen the G-20, while also strengthening the bilateral relations between the United States and China. In related work, the Stanley Foundation and Centre for International Governance Innovation also published David Shorr and Barry Carin’s analysis on the forum’s operations and prospects in “The G-20 as a Lever for Progress.”

The final report makes some specific suggestions for the reform of the G-20, including a requirement to put in writing any new topics for the agenda and their connection to the G-20’s main mission, as well as a recommendation that the G-20 nations boost the G-20’s administrative capacity by pooling talent from the former host, the current host, and the future host.

The U.S.-China study group makes clear in this final report that the G-20 can be a useful forum through which the United States and China can cooperate. Working together through the G-20 provides an opportunity to build patterns of cooperation among national leaders and their representatives at the working levels of government. Moreover, China is ensured a voice in shaping the rules and norms of the international system on which it relies for growth. Having such a voice will encourage China to invest in building an effective G-20 community.

Nina Hachigian is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Adam S. Hersh is an Economist at the Center.

Endnotes

[1] Authors’ calculation of World Trade Organization data, available at http://stat.wto.org/Home/WSDBHome.aspx?Language=E.

[2] Authors’ calculation of Bureau of Economic Analysis International Transactions and IMF World Economic Outlook database data.

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