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World

G-20 Summit Highlights Step Forward For U.S., China Relations

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We're going to dig into China's role in those G-20 talks. Some headlines focused on a scuffle at the airport between U.S. and Chinese officials. There was a disagreement over how President Obama would disembark Air Force One. But the G-20 economic talks have been a forum where the two countries have found areas of cooperation. As NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports, the talks showcased China's growing role in the world.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: On Saturday night, G-20 leaders watched as performers appeared to glide across the waters of Hangzhou's scenic West Lake. Hangzhou is the capital of Zhejiang Province, a bastion of free enterprise in China. And President Xi Jinping was party boss here for six years beginning in 2002. In a speech last week, Xi suggested that this had something to do with his choice of this city as a venue for the summit.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT XI JINPING: (Through interpreter) In China, there are a lot of cities like Hangzhou that have gone through big changes in development in recent decades, cities where many ordinary families have changed their lives through hard work. Bit by bit, it adds up to a vast power.

KUHN: China is now the world's second largest economy, and it seeks a bigger say in global organizations, including the G-20, to match that status. Zhu Jiejin is an expert on the G-20 at Shanghai's Fudan University. He says that China joined most major international institutions such as the World Bank and the World Trade Organization decades late.

ZHU JIEJIN: (Through interpreter) It's hard for a latecomer and developing nation to participate in these organizations on a truly equal footing.

KUHN: Besides not enjoying equal voting rights in these groups, he says, China felt that these groups subjected developing countries to unfair rules. It's as if the groups were saying...

ZHU: (Through interpreter) Only when you meet conditions such as the rule of law and good governance, only then can we loan you money and let you develop. But that was certainly not how China developed.

KUHN: Zhu says that China now intends to participate in the G-20 according to its own values. The U.S. and China meanwhile have agreed to cooperate within the G-20, and that seems to have made President Obama's trip a bit easier.

Beijing University international relations expert Jia Qingguo says that looking back over the past eight years, many Chinese feel that Obama's policy of pivoting to Asia unfairly targeted them. That said, Jia adds, they also feel that the U.S. and China accomplished a lot together.

JIA QINGGUO: (Through interpreter) The two sides reached a lot of consensuses, and now it's just a matter of turning them into actual cooperation. I think China's overall evaluation of Obama has been pretty positive.

KUHN: President Obama did not lay out any ambitious goals before this trip, and he didn't appear to have scored any political breakthroughs, either. At his press conference after the summit, he barely mentioned human rights, territorial disputes in the South China Sea or any other areas of contention with China. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Hangzhou. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.