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China's Relations with G8 Raise Body's Status
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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 time.


The talks are expected to focus on energy security, the prevention and control of epidemics, education and Africa's development.


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 21-22.


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 swansong.


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 of improvement.


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 development.


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 present.


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 organic way.


(The author is deputy director of China Institute of International Studies.)


(China Daily July 14, 2006)


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