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Visitors walk past an enlarged projection of a Chinese renminbi currency displayed at a gallery in Beijing. (Ng Han Guan/AP)
Visitors walk past an enlarged projection of a Chinese renminbi currency displayed at a gallery in Beijing. (Ng Han Guan/AP)

What China wants from the G20 Add to ...

It's a question that hangs heavily over the world's leaders as they prepare to gather in Toronto at month's end for the Group of 20 summit. What does China, the world's fast-emerging "other" superpower, want from the gathering?

Canada and other countries have laid out detailed bargaining positions on pivotal issues such as when to end stimulus spending by governments and whether to levy an international tax on banks. But Beijing has said little, even as others have made demands of China, such as repeated calls to release its currency, the yuan, from an artificially low peg to the U.S. dollar.

Still, Beijing is indeed coming to Toronto with its own agenda, highlighted by its demand that the world's financial superstructure - particularly the World Bank and International Monetary Fund - be reformed to reflect Beijing's new economic might.

"The issue of international financial institutions has been raised here with me, as I expected it would," Mr. Flaherty said after two days of meetings with Chinese officials during which he lobbied hard for Beijing to back Canada in its opposition to a U.S. and European proposal for an international tax on banks.

Mr. Flaherty hinted that China in turn was looking for support on its own pet issue. "Canada has supported reform of international financial institutions to better reflect the emerging economies in the world, and we've done that at the World Bank, and we've done that at the IMF. Canada will continue to support those kinds of reforms," he said.

China already secured agreement in principle on the idea of IMF reform at the Washington meeting of G20 finance ministers in April, though there is no detail yet on the proportion of the voting shares to be transferred. China - the world's third-largest and fastest-growing economy - currently has the sixth-most votes, a 3.7-per-cent share.


The United States, which hosted the meetings that gave birth to the IMF and World Bank at Bretton Woods, N.H., in 1944, has by far the largest block, with slightly more than 17 per cent of the vote - nearly three times the proportion given to the world's second-largest economy, Japan.

The issue of IMF and World Bank reform is fraught with political baggage. The post-1945 order established at Bretton Woods is often referred to as the Washington Consensus, led by the country that emerged strongest from the Second World War. Some now believe a "Beijing consensus" is emerging, or at least a new international order where China and the United States effectively constitute a "G2."

Xu Mingqi, deputy director of the Shanghai-based World Economics and Politics Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that China has been the third-largest economic entity in the world for some time now and this year will overtake Japan to become second largest. "China's role is objectively enhanced in the world economy," he said.

"In all of the issues related to the international economic orders - no matter whether China will or will not receive the vote shares [at the World Bank and IMF]- China's voice will be stronger than before," Mr. Xu said.

China wants to see the promises of reform turned into action soon, he added.

"It is certainly important to China. IMF reform is about strengthening the right to speak of developing countries, and about further maintaining the international financial market's stability, and to avoid the financial crisis from becoming worse again. This is also what China needs."

Beyond the demand for a bigger say in the global financial system, experts say China is otherwise in a watch-and-wait mode when it comes to the G20. Beijing remains uncertain whether the G20 is a forum that can advance its interests, or another body that will follow Washington's lead - and that could potentially single China out for criticism of its currency manipulation and other policies.

"Who are the leading voices [in the G20] What are the potential alliances, friendships and demarcation lines on the issues? This is still being debated in China," said Wenran Jiang, a China expert at University of Alberta. Despite claims from Canadian officials that Beijing was on their side in the debate over the bank tax, Mr. Jiang described China's position on that and other key issues facing the Toronto summit as "murky."

"China is going into the summit without pre-exposing itself on most of its positions. Rather than taking the lead or calling the shots, they're observing." The only exception, Mr. Jiang said, was IMF and World Bank reform, which he called "a line-in-the-sand issue that they won't back down on."


What Canada wants from China

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's message to Beijing is that Canada welcomes China's larger role on the world stage, but that the world needs China to look beyond its national interests when setting its economic policy.

Speaking last Thursday to a room of potential investors in Beijing, he praised China's "increasingly influential" role on the international scene, but suggested the sustainability of the global economic recovery might well depend on China adjusting its currency - which economists say has been kept low to give Chinese exporters a competitive edge - and convincing its own citizens to spend more and save less.

"Success is only possible if everyone follows the same rules. Where imbalances exist, in emerging and advanced countries alike, we must fix them," Mr. Flaherty said. "If we are to sustain the global recovery, other nations will need to reduce their savings, and combine this with structural reforms and exchange rate adjustments."

He also added that it was time for all governments, including Canada's and China's, to start withdrawing stimulus money from their economies. China's massive $586-billion (U.S.) stimulus package is widely credited with helping the country to avoid the recession that hit many of its main export markets, and Beijing has indicated it wants to keep the policy in place as long as there is uncertainty on the global markets.

It's a refrain Chinese leaders have been hearing since the onset of the global economic crisis in 2008, when they first moved to repeg the yuan, which was briefly allowed to float on the market between 2005 and 2008, at about 6.8 to the U.S. dollar. But outside pressure from the likes of U.S. President Barack Obama has yielded nothing from China but a vague promise to gradually let the yuan, also known as the renminbi, appreciate, starting at a time of Beijing's choosing.

The value of the yuan is sure to be raised again in Toronto. But China is expected to make clear that the old order - which included the United States and other powers talking down to it through institutions such as the IMF and World Bank - no longer works.

A draft communiqué circulated ahead of last weekend's meeting of Group of 20 finance ministers in South Korea indicated that China will get its way on the issue that matters most to them. It urged "concrete progress" on reforming voting quotas at the IMF ahead of the leaders' summit in Toronto. It made no mention of China's currency.

Mark MacKinnon

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Follow on Twitter: @markmackinnon

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