Until five years ago, Beijing wasn’t invited to the big players’ summits. Today, it is pursued in order to assume a more decisive role. But, there will be no surprises at the summit in St. Petersburg. Here’s why:
Until five years ago China wasn’t even invited to the most important international assembly. Due to purely ideological reasons, it was excluded from the G8, which coincidentally revealed itself to be ineffective and self-praising, a façade incapable of resolving any global problems. Only a decade ago Beijing would have refused to participate in a summit held in St. Petersburg. The name change from Leningrad would have been inacceptable, an excessive symbolic toll paid for the orthodoxy of the past.
Today, China is not only invited but also courted to play in increasingly involved role in the global landscape. Since the G20 materialized to combat the crisis triggered in 2008, the Big Dragon has been asked to intervene in line with its dimension. Only then did western leaders remember the Asian giant, and, with a guilty delay, they noted that no global problem could be resolved without China’s participation.
And yet the China that appears in Russia doesn’t seem enthusiastic about participating in a summit it perceives as inconclusive. The news is almost ignored in the national press. In the People’s Daily, the organ of the PCC highlights president Xi Jinping’s trip to ex-soviet republics in central Asia, during which he will participate in the G20. This last detail is not irrelevant, but the perception that Beijing isn’t appending decisive tasks with the summit is pervasive for at least two reasons. The first regards internal problems.
The Bo Xilai scandal, the scourge of corruption (boasting excellent arrests), the economic slowdown, rivalries within the PCC, and the need for sustainable reforms are engaging China in an internal power struggle. This struggle is not obvious, but adjustments and alliances are taking place behind the scenes, a prelude to a new order. It’s plausible that the west only perceives the surface of telluric movements in China. For the Chinese government, moreover, international politics are only instrumental to national interests. Abstract or imperial ambitions don’t exist in China, or at least they’re well disguised.
The St. Petersburg assembly has a magnificent location (an homage to Kandinsky and Russian avant-garde) and mandatory goals: stimulate growth and employment. Conditioning Chinese national politics frequently involved in selfish monetary emissions with multilateral inspirations will be challenging —as Beijing is well aware. The climate is not favorable: Obama will not meet with Putin over the espionage issue, Xi Jinping will limit formalist interactions with Abe due to territorial contentions in the South China Sea.
Tensions regarding intervention in Syria will hover over the entire summit: Obama has promised action, France supports it, Russia has condemned it, and China is dispassionately opposed. Therefore, the conditions are ripe for a stalemate in the face of serious problems world leaders should be addressing. Not surprisingly, China will escape unscathed. It will not have to take responsibilities, and it can continue its internal politics undisturbed; it knows well that phrases like “collaboration” and “public will” have no real binding significance in official statements.