Editorial: China's G20 notable mainly for a mix-up on the stairs

State leaders take part in a group photo session for the G20 Summit held at the Hangzhou International Expo Center. Photo / AP
State leaders take part in a group photo session for the G20 Summit held at the Hangzhou International Expo Center. Photo / AP

At a time of tension over China's claims to the South China Sea, which now extends to its competition with Japan and South Korea for resources in the East China Sea, it is a relief that a G20 summit hosted by China at the weekend produced nothing worse than a dispute over steps the US President would use to alight from Air Force One.

Details of that sideshow are sketchy and disputed. The Americans send their own steps to foreign countries for the President to make the entrance they desire. But the Chinese were adamant all visitors must use the stairs they had provided. The Americans objected that a Chinese driver of their stairway did not speak English.

When he landed there were no stairs for the President. Barack Obama did not let it matter, using steps from the belly of the plane. The only person who made much of it was Donald Trump, who declared he would have abandoned the summit and directed the plane to return home. The incident, therefore, provides a timely warning for American voters.

The major achievement of the G20 meeting, decided in advance as they usually are, was the agreement by China and the US that each would ratify the Paris climate change accord. Beyond that, the importance of the event to the hosts was a welcome sign after China's refusal to acknowledge the Hague tribunal's ruling this year on its claims to the South China Sea.

The G20 summit suggested President Xi Jinping does care for civilised international conduct, despite the more oppressive trends in China's internal politics under him. His Government clearly wants to be respected in the world and it has been given a golden opportunity to take the initiative on international development finance and the rules of global trade.

The great irony of opposition in the US to the Trans-Pacific Partnership is the TPP excludes China and, if it fails, the Asia-Pacific region will pursue a similar treaty promoted by Apec that includes China, if not the US. Just about all major economies except the US and Japan have signed with China's Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Canada applied to join on the eve of the summit.

China's chosen theme for the gathering at Hangzhou was, "Towards an innovative, invigorated, interconnected and inclusive world economy," which sounds a world away from the walled-in fortress of Trump and the creeping protection that has returned to other economies in recent years.

The summit produced nothing of note on the trouble spots of the world. President Obama and Russia's Vladimir Putin had a one-to-one discussion of Syria but could not resolve the humanitarian crisis there. Their separate efforts have Isis in retreat but the US is not prepared to keep Assad in power.

The South China Sea was probably not much discussed out of deference to the hosts, even when China sent boats to a contested shoal near the Philippines while the summit was underway. Not to be forgotten, North Korea fired three missiles into Japan's air defence identification zone as the G20 was winding up.

Still, a climate change accord is better than nothing.

- NZ Herald

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