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The Agenda of China's 2016 G20 Hangzhou Summit

John Kirton, Co-director, G20 Research Group
November 19, 2015

At the end of the G20's Antalya Summit in Turkey on November 15-16, 2015, the leaders announced in their concluding communiqué that their next summit would take place in Hangzhou in China in September 2016. It soon became known that the dates would be September 4-5. Attention immediately turned to what the Hangzhou Summit's agenda would be, even before China formally assumes the G20 chair on December 1, 2015.

One good way to identify the agenda is to assess the formally inherited agenda, defined by the subjects that the leaders in their communiqués specify will be done in the following year or beyond, with the actual year identified by name. Such specifications come in several categories: the items the leader indicate that they themselves will take up (especially in the form of decisional commitments); remit mandates in which they ask that others report back to them; or items that they direct others to deal with in the coming year(s). Their power to predict next year's agenda flows from the fact that China, already a member of the G20's governing troika as the incoming chair and soon to be the current chair, would not allow the Antalya communiqué to bind the forthcoming summit to any agenda item it did not intend to address.

An analysis of the formally inherited agenda contained in the Antalya Summit's two concluding communiqués strongly suggests that Hangzhou will have a comprehensive agenda, covering the economic-finance, sustainable development and political-security domains, and embracing items long part of the G20's ongoing, built-in agenda and those newly added at Antalya in 2015.

All the items on the formally inherited agenda are contained in the text of its 13-page G20 Leaders' Communiqué: Antalya Summit, 15-16 November 2015 (with the four-and-a-half-page list of annexes and supporting documents excluded from this analysis). The 16 references identified 13 separate subjects. Three subjects can be considered potential priorities as they received two references each: future summits (where Hangzhou in 2016 was followed by Germany in 2017), sustainable development and tax. Receiving one reference each were a broad range of subjects: macroeconomics, labour, aging and the mobility of the labour force, investment, corruption, energy, infrastructure, terrorist finance, international financial architecture and health.

The flat nature of this list, with most items receiving only one reference and only three receiving two, suggests that China is committed to hosting a full-strength summit that respects the consensus of its colleagues as it has accumulated over the ten summits past. It further suggests that China, as a matter of respect to the current Turkish presidency, is waiting to announce its major themes or priorities until it formally assumes the chair.

Of these 13 subjects, 11 came from the built-in agenda: macroeconomics, labour, investment, tax, corruption, sustainable development, energy, future summits, infrastructure, terrorist finance and international financial architecture. Of note on this highly comprehensive, conservative list is corruption, given the speculation that China was trying to end the G20's Anti-Corruption Working Group, despite the major, continuing anti-corruption campaign that President Xi Jinping has been mounting at home. Also of note is terrorist finance, despite the absence of any references to this issue or to the much broader dimensions of terrorism addressed in the separate one-page G20 Statement on the Fight Against Terrorism.

There were two newer items: aging and the mobility of the workforce, and health. The first reflects an assumption that the challenge of Syrian refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa currently flooding into 2017 host Germany and Europe would continue throughout 2016. It also reflects the need of the rapidly aging societies of China, Germany and recession-ridden Asian partners Japan and Russia to generate new demographic sources of strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth.

The second item, health, was dealt with for the first time in a mainstream way at the Brisbane Summit in 2014, in the form of a separate statement on the Ebola epidemic. However, at Antalya G20 leaders went much broader, speaking of global health risks in general and specifying antimicrobial resistance — a G7 priority — and weak health systems as key concerns. They further noted how health crises harmed economic growth and stability, reaffirmed the Brisbane statement as the basis on which to build, and declared, in a remit mandate, that they would "discuss the terms of reference to deal with this issue in the G20 next year." Elsewhere in the communiqué they touched on occupational safety and health. In all it was clear that the G20 has become a global health governor in a broad and ongoing way.

Further indications of the likely Hangzhou agenda can be obtained by identifying which of the 17 references at Antalya took the form of decisional commitments by the leaders themselves to return to a specific subject, either on their own or in remit mandate form.

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