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New Players Set To Make Mark On G-20 Summit


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Today's meeting in London between President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao is a debut of sorts for both men. It's President Obama's first trip overseas since taking office, though he did take a trip to Canada. For Hu it's an opportunity to show that his country is ready to take a lead role on the world stage.

China will be a major player at the Group of 20 Summit, which officially opens in London tomorrow. As NPR's Tom Gjelten reports this G-20 meeting shows how the world's political line up is changing.

TOM GJELTEN: For years the big economic summit was the G-7, bringing together the leaders of the United States, Japan, Canada and the four biggest European countries. These were the world's industrial powers. But those seven countries have seen their share of the global economy shrink in recent years. And now another summit is getting all the attention.

Mr. BERGSTEN (Director, Peterson Institute for International Economics): The G-20 has replaced the G-7 as the chief steering committee for the world economy.

GJELTEN: Fred Bergsten is director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Mr. BERGSTEN: That's because the emerging markets now account for half the world economy and their share is growing every year.

GJELTEN: Among the new players, China, Brazil, Russia, India and developing economies like South Korea and Mexico. Kemal Dervis, a former economy minister in Turkey, says these countries in the past got to attend G-7 meetings only as guests.

Mr. KEMAL DERVIS (Former economy minister, Turkey): Some of them are invited mostly for having coffee or for a photo-op, or maybe sometimes for having a lunch, but certainly not as full partners. And indeed, I think last time China said, look, if that's all we're invited for we're not going to come.

GJELTEN: The G-20 got organized in 1999 after the Asian financial crisis, when it became clear the emerging market countries would be important players in the global economy. But only finance ministers and central bank governors bothered to attend G-20 meetings. The first G-20 summit was last November in Washington, hastily arranged as a response to the global financial crisis.

From here on, says Fred Bergsten, it will be inconceivable for leaders to discuss the world economy without including China and the other big developing countries.

Mr. BERGSTEN: Over the next year or so, as the world comes out of the downturn, the emerging markets will probably provide more than 100 percent of world growth. The U.S., Europe, Japan will all be in negative terrain.

GJELTEN: As a consequence of their growing importance, these countries have new political clout and they're likely to exercise it as this week's G-20 summit. China and other Asian countries, for example, are being asked to provide more money to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to help lower income countries. But until now, the big industrial powers have had more voting clout at the IMF and the bank.

Kemal Dervis, now at the Brookings Institution, says the emerging economies wonder what they would get in exchange for agreeing to step up their IMF and World Bank contributions

Mr. DERVIS (The Brookings Institution): Particularly they're saying, well ok, if we do, are you going to give us the role and the place at the table in such a way that our voting will increase and that of Europe, for example, will diminish? If you're going to do this, they say, ok, then maybe we'll contribute some of our resources.

GJELTEN: The spotlight at the G-20 summit will be on Chinese President Hu Jintao. China has financial reserves to spend and a great potential for growth. In the past, Chinese leaders have focused narrowly on their national interests and shunned a global leadership role, but that may now be changing.

Mr. JUSTIN LIN (Chief economist, World Bank): The interests of China and the interests of the global economy are consistent.

GJELTEN: Justin Lin is the chief economist for the World Bank. He says his country, China, and other emerging economic powers are now ready to become more involved in global economic policy making, if they get the political representation they deserve.

Mr. LIN: We need to have more resources for the low income country. And we need to have some reform on the voice and representation.

GJELTEN: those reforms on voice and representation will be discussed at the G-20 meeting in London, Lin says - just one of the agenda items reflecting the new political priorities of this enlarged leadership forum.

Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.