He Weiwen: G20 Declaration vows all tools to fight COVID-19, save economy

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He Weiwen: G20 Declaration vows all tools to fight COVID-19, save economy

2020-11-23

by: He Weiwen        Source: Global Times        Published: 2020-11-23


Leaders of the world's 20 biggest economies on Sunday vowed in a joint declaration to deploy "all available policy tools" to contain the raging COVID-19 global pandemic and save the global economy from plunging further into disarray with efforts to advance global pandemic preparedness, vaccine development and distribution and relief of debt burden on developing countries, striking an uplifting tone for a world plagued by a confluence of crisis.


Although the specific actions and follow-ups remain to be seen given what Chinese officials have described as a mounting deficit in global governance and multilateral cooperation, the Group of 20 (G20), which accounts for 90 percent of the global economy, has and will continue to play an increasingly important role in addressing not just the epidemic and its economic fallout, but also long-term global issues such as climate change, Chinese analysts said on Sunday.


The closing of the G20 summit on Sunday also capped what has been described as the busiest season of Chinese diplomacy with President Xi Jinping participating in a series of back-to-back meetings that cemented China's rising role in regional and global governance - and could also mark the last appearance of US President Donald Trump at such multilateral conferences, where he played more of a disruptive force over the past four years in a major shift away from the US' traditionally dominant  role, analysts noted.


Uplifting tone


With the COVID-19 pandemic having infected over 58 million people worldwide and killing nearly 1.4 million more and with a global economy in deep recession, the ongoing fight against COVID-19 and the struggle to save the global economy from freefall was front and center at the two-day virtual summit of the G20, which was hosted by Saudi Arabia.


"We are determined to continue to use all available policy tools as long as required to safeguard people's lives, jobs and incomes, support the global economic recovery, and enhance the resilience of the financial system, while safeguarding against downside risks," the leaders said in the wide-ranging declaration.


Among the major outcomes of the summit were commitments to improve global pandemic preparedness and support international health institutions, jointly push forward vaccine development and distribution, coordinate economic policies and help developing and least developed countries that have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic.


Specifically, the leaders said they would address remaining financial needs of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics development and "spare no effort to ensure their affordable and equitable access for all people." Also, the leaders vowed to continue implement the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) to provide "maximum support" to ease debt burdens for eligible countries.


"As a main platform for global leaders to coordinate on responses to world crises, the G20 has played an important role in the fight against the epidemic since the special summit in March," He Weiwen, a former senior trade official and a senior fellow of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Sunday, adding that though concrete actions remain to be seen, "it has no doubt offered the world a positive direction."


As the deadly virus made its way across the globe in March, the G20 convened a special summit where leaders agreed to cooperate in the battle against the epidemic and coordinate economic policies to help the teetering global economy. In total, the G20 has contributed over $21 billion to support global health systems and the hunt for a vaccine, offered over $14 billion in debt relief for developing countries and injected $11 trillion to support the global economy, according to an official statement.


However, despite these contributions, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage many parts of the world with constant record-breaking new cases, including in the US and Europe. The global economy is estimated by the IMF to contract 4.4 percent in 2020, which requires more robust actions by the G20 economies, experts said.


"While the message from the G20 is positive, the outcomes are mostly consensus in principle rather than concrete action plans. It remains to be seen what specific actions the G20 members will take, because we need concrete actions," Huo Jianguo, vice chairman of the China Society for World Trade Organization Studies, told the Global Times on Sunday.


He Weiwen also said that compared to the swift actions in response to the 2008 global financial crisis, "there is still a lot to be done this time around because the crisis we face now is much worse than in 2009."


Following the global financial crisis, the G20 convened its first leaders' summit in the US and came up with what has been described as the largest and most coordinated fiscal and monetary stimulus that helped avert a possible economic depression.


What happened since was a major shift in the US' foreign policies, especially since Trump came to power. When COVID-19 hit, the world was already facing several crises caused in no small part by Trump's toxic unilateral and protectionist approach, even as other countries like China have been promoting multilateralism and free trade. That shifting dynamic was on vivid display at the G20 this year.


Shifting roles


Xi, who had just attended three major regional and global meetings over the past week, including the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' meeting on Friday, delivered several speeches at the G20 summit, highlighting China's resolve in tackling global issues - climate change and poverty alleviation, after speaking of China's commitment to promote global cooperation in fighting the COVID-19 and helping save the global economy on Saturday.


In a speech at the G20s opening on Saturday, the Chinese President reiterated that China will honor its pledge to make vaccines a global public good, urged more countries to join a China-proposed mechanism on mutual recognition of health certificates with a QR code to allow global travel to resume, and vowed to increase the level of debt suspension and relief for countries facing particular difficulties.


Then on Sunday, in a speech at a session on protecting the planet, Xi reaffirmed China's commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to contribute to addressing climate change. At another speech on Sunday night, Xi focused on poverty alleviation across the globe, calling for more financial, digital support for developing countries and vulnerable groups.


"Without a doubt, China has become more adoptive and more influential at these global platforms, mostly not just because of its domestic success but also because of its commitment to talk global issues," while the US, under Trump, has shown "no interest" in global issues, Huo said.


Trump also attended the G20 summit, which could be among his last appearance at a multilateral event as Joe Biden is projected to win the US presidential election, but his attendance drew more mockery than admiration, as he tweeted about election politics during the opening session and skipped a session on pandemic preparedness to go golfing at his club.


While Trump might remain influential in US domestic politics, his departure from the White House will be a boon for multilateralism, as Biden has shown steady support for multilateralism and he could take measures to push for cooperation, experts said.


"Particularly, Biden has made fighting COVID-19 his top priority, which would require global cooperation, therefore, he is very likely to pursue global cooperation at the G20 and other multilateral platforms," He said.


He Weiwen is a senior fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.



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