The G20 Foreign Ministers Meeting has kicked off in Nagoya, Japan, against the current complicated international backdrop.
Despite progress in the Sino-U.S. trade talks, uncertainties remain as the ongoing trade war is turning into a long-term one; the U.S. is hitting the world market and world’s multilateral trade system with its unilateral trade sanctions; Japan is also following the U.S. step to impose trade sanctions on the Republic of Korea, which has also been implementing full-fledged countermeasures, resulting in an extremely worsened Japan-ROK relationship.
The U.S. is certainly more inclined to underline the unfairness in the current world trade system to justify its unilateral actions, while countries like the ROK and China are more likely to uphold the existing trade architecture faced with sanctions from the U.S.
The position of Japan is slightly more delicate
Japan is equally unhappy with unilateral trade sanctions and oppression from the U.S. and regards its actions as unreasonable. However, it is partly walking in the shoes of the U.S. in targeting the ROK and China, underscoring the rationality and effectiveness of its own unilateral.
If countries all stand firmly in their positions and only stick to parallel narratives, no agreement or consensus would be reached. There will only be endless and ineffective debates at the meeting.
Perhaps the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) proposed by China could provide some inspiration in this regard. The proposal does not insist on building a regional economic cooperation structure for free trade liberalisation.
Instead, the critical focus under the BRI is to locate shared grounds for all parties involved.
Countries would cooperate on such common grounds under the principles of consultation, contribution and shared benefits.
Such shared grounds are based on the belief that all countries are willing to develop their economy and to benefit from cooperation.
At the same time, though, participants should understand that they should not pursue absolute equality of interests as countries differ from each other in economic endowment, which dictates that complete equal division of interest does not exist.
This is an economic cooperation model based on rationalism
Such a rationalism-based economic cooperation model deserves the attention of the G20. Instead of stressing their complaints, countries can make the most of their comparative advantages through cooperation projects with other countries that uphold this principle and share the achievement according to the proportion of participation and investment.
It is rare to see such practical economic, regional and project-based cooperation in past G20 meetings and negotiations, which focused more on international macroeconomic policies that served as general orientation and initiatives.
Therefore, collaboration at the G20 level used to be criticised as too broad and empty, which represents a forum model that the G20 is a place for talks but not responsible actions. Although some countries talk with a sense of prudence and act in line with their policy statements, in general, the results of G20 meetings remain unsatisfactory in terms of the implementation.
The underlying reason for that lies in that the meeting outcomes are far too broad. They are mostly policies that indicate a general direction for economic policies. But it is hard for individual countries alone to turn these policies into practice against the changing trend of global economic development.
What they usually do is merely follow the trends and see what happens. And that in turn, further extracts from the substantiality of G20 meeting outcomes.
The G20 mechanism could reach its full potential by pushing cooperation on key projects, such as transcontinental submarine cable and 5G/6G telecommunication. If the G20 strengthens collaboration in those areas where specific economic issues can be tackled, its outcome may become more fulfilling.