By Ruan Zongze
The three-day Group of Eight (G8) summit opens on Saturday in
St. Petersburg, with Russia hosting the meeting for the first
The talks are expected to focus on energy security, the
prevention and control of epidemics, education and Africa's
Chinese President Hu Jintao will attend the meetings for
dialogue between the G8 and developing countries. How will China
get along with the G8 and in which direction will their relations
develop? This is a question on many people's minds.
This G8 summit is taking place as Western countries are
encountering a number of political and economic problems.
US President George W. Bush's approval rating, for example, hit
a low of 30 percent because of the Iraq impasse. Also, the once
strong momentum of neo-conservatism in the US is playing out. As a
consequence, Washington intends to mend its relations with the EU.
An example of this attempted reapproachment was Bush's attendance
at the US-EU Summit in Vienna during his Austria visit on June
The EU, on the other hand, is licking its wounds, still smarting
after the rejection of the European Constitution by Dutch and
French voters in 2004.
At the same time, major European countries are caught up in a
number of difficulties. In addition, Japanese Prime Minister
Junichiro Koizumi is expected to quit the political arena in
September and his presence at the G8 summit may be his
Recent international economic and political developments offer
little reason for optimism. High oil prices pose a threat to the
global economy, the Doha round of trade negotiations is making
little progress, and the security situation in Iraq shows no signs
There are other headaches instability in Afghanistan, the
Iranian nuclear crisis and the recent missile tests by North Korea.
Meanwhile, the international community is constantly confronted
with the threat of terrorism.
Faced with such complex and treacherous situations, the G8
summit is unable to do much.
All this makes the meetings for dialogue between G8 and
developing countries all the more necessary.
In the 1990s, the Group of Seven (G7), not including Russia,
began to closely watch China, which was gaining economic strength
and beginning to play a more important role in the international
arena. China's performance during the 1997 Southeast Asian
financial crisis won particular acclaim from the G7.
Then German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, for example, invited
China to attend the 1999 G8 summit and said that China should be
admitted to the club. At the 2000 G8 summit in Okinawa, China was
invited to have a dialogue with G8 members. And on the eve of the
2002 summit, the G8, through various channels, said that China
should be part of this annual meeting.
The St. Petersburg summit will be the third occasion at which
top Chinese officials have been part of the dialogue between the G8
and the developing world.
The first handshake between China and G8 was at the 2003 G8
Evian summit, attended by President Hu. This marked a breakthrough
in Sino-G8 diplomacy. China was also part of the dialogue at last
year's London G8 summit.
The G8 has been attracting criticism in recent years. On the one
hand, the group is trying to have a bigger say in international
affairs, with its agenda extending from exclusively economic
matters to international politics and security. On the other hand,
however, the G8, bringing together just eight countries, is not
representative enough. As a result, its prestige has dropped.
G8, in a bid to free itself from this plight, has started to
strengthen its ties with the rest of the world. Promoting dialogue
with the developing world marks one of the most salient features in
the G8's switch to a new orientation.
The G8 brings together the US, Britain, France, Germany, Japan,
Italy, Canada and Russia. As early as 1975, the then French
President Valry Giscard d'Estaing took the initiative to invite
German, US, Japanese, British and Italian leaders for an informal
meeting, discussing the impact of the oil crisis on the global
economy. This informal meeting later turned into a formal annual
conference. Canada joined the club the next year, leading to the
formation of the G7.
With Russia's accession in 1998, the group became the G8.
In the course of accelerating economic globalization, a number
of major developing nations have emerged as influential economies.
Having dialogue with them has hence become an imperative for G8 in
order to effectively address the issues of the world economy and
As a result, dialogue sessions have been instituted on the
sidelines of the G8 summit, which is also aimed at promoting the
authority of the G8 on matters such as the global economy, world
politics and security.
With its the rapid economic development, China has become an
important player that should not be trifled with. In GDP terms, the
country has overtaken or surpassed some G8 members. But at the same
time, China remains a developing country. Hence, China has a dual
identity being a developing country but possessing some of the
attributes of a developed one.
It is in the interest of China that the country engages with the
G8 while remaining fairly detached. The chances of China joining
the group currently remain slim. This is because the country will
remain a developing nation for the foreseeable future.
Obviously, no room for maneuver is reserved for China inside the
G8, the club of the rich. Moreover, there exist some physical
obstacles to China joining the group. The G8 sets certain political
and economic criteria, which are hard for China to meet at
A phenomenon worth following is that more and more disputes are
arising between Russia and the West. This has been reflected by the
increased criticism of Russia by the US and European countries on
the eve of the summit. Some have gone so far as to question
Russia's qualification as the host country.
Russia, on its own part, is eager to raise its international
status by hosting the summit. At the same time, Russia's diplomatic
activities are becoming increasingly active. The recent oil price
hikes have helped the Russian economy take a turn for the better.
This helps give Russia far more diplomatic clout.
Russia joined the group out of political needs eight years ago,
only to find that it has second-class membership of the G8, and
still does not have much say on economic matters. Russia has long
resented its humble position within the group and hopes that its
host-country status will help it become a truly equal partner.
But Russia, having been a G8 member for just eight years, is yet
to be fully accepted by Western powers.
China's closer ties with the G8 should not be ruled out in the
long run, which would help the country have a bigger say in
international economic affairs. The country's closer relations with
the group would also open up a channel through which the developing
world's voice will be heard. In addition, closer ties with the G8
would enhance the group's representation. In view of all this,
China will allow its relationship with the G8 to develop in an
(The author is deputy director of China Institute of
(China Daily July 14, 2006)