The big takeaway from the G-20 summit, in the eyes of many, is that the G-20 has become the G-2, consisting of the United States and China.
European countries were bickering with each other, yet again, and traditional heavyweights like Japan and Russia didn’t inspire much confidence. China recognizes how influential it has become — not just in reality, but also in the eyes of the world. When the head of the People’s Bank of China says that the world needs an alternative to the dollar as the currency of last resort, you know that the tides have turned. China has also been increasingly vocal in calling for the reform of international economic institutions and has said that it should be given a greater voice in that process.
There’s no question that China has been hit hard by the crisis, especially because it relies so heavily on exports. Even so, it’s doing better than just about everyone else. Leading economists think that China’s economy will grow between 6 and 8 percent this year — not bad at all! Its foreign exchange reserves — worth about $2 trillion — have allowed it not just to stay afloat, but also to take advantage of low prices of the basic commodities that it needs to fuel its exploding economy.
Beyond the fact that its economy is faring better than most others, it’s tough to think of a big challenge that can be solved without cooperation between the U.S. and its East Asian counterpart. The global financial crisis? Check. Climate change? Check. Nuclear nonproliferation? Check. The list goes on and on. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has said that the relationship between the two countries will be the most important in the 21st century — it’s no accident that her first trip was to Asia.
If the Olympics were Beijing’s glitzy coming-out party, the G-20 was a more serious, substantive validation of its role on the world stage. The Chinese people are newly confident and nationalistic. After enduring centuries of humiliation, they feel that they’re now commanding the respect they deserve. Building a strong Sino-American partnership isn’t going to be easy, but it must be done if we’re to make progress on the world’s most pressing challenges.