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Science & Technology

G-20 Summit: A First For Host China, A Last For President Obama

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Obama's in China to attend a summit of the group of 20 nations. It is his last trip to Asia as president, and it's uncertain whether his policy of trying to shift U.S. focus and military forces to that region is going to go on. NPR's Anthony Kuhn joins us from the eastern city of Hangzhou. Anthony, thanks so much for being with us.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Greetings, Scott.

SIMON: President Obama and the Chinese president had a meeting this morning ahead of the G-20 summit. Do we know what came out of it?

KUHN: Their main achievement was that they submitted documents to the United Nations, formally joining the Paris climate agreement. And on the occasion President Obama said that some day we may see this as the moment that we finally decided to save our planet. President Xi Jinping, meanwhile, called on other countries to follow their example. Now, a lot more countries still have to formally join this agreement for it to take effect. But the U.S. and China submitted their documents ahead of schedule, and this just means that the commitments that these countries made in Paris can be put into action that much sooner.

SIMON: This is the first time China has hosted this summit. Does it have a goal in mind as to why it's doing it?

KUHN: Well, first of all, you know, by hosting this for the first time, to many Chinese it really marks the first time that they've had an equal seat at the rulemaking table since World War II. They feel that they're now the world's second-largest economy, and they want a say that's commensurate with that status. So far, a lot of the rules have been made by the Group of Seven or Group of Eight industrialized nations. China has not been a part of that, and they want a more equitable system represented by the G-20 that does a better job of taking into account the needs of developing nations like itself.

SIMON: Do we know what's on the agenda?

KUHN: The main thing they're going to focus on, Scott, is how to keep the global economy growing. The U.S. and China play a key role in that. This is a time, of course, when there's a lot of mistrust of globalization in general, and the G-20's message basically is that there's no turning back from globalization but that globalization cannot leave massive numbers of people behind. And it's got to be environmentally sustainable. And so they're going to focus very much on implementing development goals and also on climate change, as we mentioned.

SIMON: Anthony, does this G-20 meeting represent any kind of farewell for U.S. policymakers to what was called the the U.S. pivot to Asia that the Obama administration had hoped to make?

KUHN: Well, there's certainly no guarantee that it will continue. And, you know, President Obama is certainly expected to defend and talk about this policy a lot. But it's controversial, and it's under a lot of criticism. One of the criticisms is that the U.S. has tried to guide China's choices to follow the U.S.-led international order. But China, in many respects, does not want to accept that guidance on issues, for example, such as the South China Sea or on human rights.

Also the U.S. has tried to build up a positive momentum by working on issues such as climate change, but that has not outweighed or dispelled the deep mutual strategic distrust that exists between Beijing and Washington.

SIMON: NPR's Anthony Kuhn at the site of the G-20 summit in Hangzhou, China. Anthony, thanks so much for being with us.

KUHN: My pleasure, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.