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China's G20 year will raise human rights concerns

China's G20 year will raise human rights concerns

The G20 party may have ended in Brisbane, but the show rolls on. The leaders' forum will head to Turkey in 2015 and, in his final act as G20 chair for 2014, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott confirmed 2016 will see leaders heading to China.

I've just co-written a paper on what the first ever Chinese G20 presidency might mean for global economic governance, particularly China's participation in the Bretton Woods institutions versus its experimentation with new actors like the BRICS and the AIIB. Here though, I want to touch on some other 'sideshow' aspects of chairing the G20 that will be of interest in two years' time.

It is now generally established that chairing the G20 also means facilitating five official 'outreach' or 'stakeholder' processes that involve G20 officials consulting with business (B20), think tanks (T20), youth (Y20), civil society (C20) and labour unions (L20). The first two will be interesting to watch in China: how influential will the leading business body and think tank tasked with running the B20 and T20 be?

But of course, the most intriguing question will be what the Chinese Government does with the C20 and the L20. [fold]

In the interviews we conducted for our paper with Chinese scholars, the need to maintain the outreach group process, particularly the C20 and L20, was raised on several occasions. While the decision to maintain the process is ultimately made by each G20 president (how the C20 fares under Turkish President Erdogan is a pretty interesting question in its own right), I would anticipate that these processes will take place during China's presidency. For one thing, the C20 was actually established under Russia's G20 presidency in 2013 with, as far as I am aware, little discernible impact on Russian society. Nevertheless, China will obviously be keen to avoid having its G20 presidency becoming a year-long opportunity to criticise its human rights record, a la the run-up to the Beijing Olympics.

The other aspect worth dwelling on is the opportunity for Australians participating in the outreach groups to interact with their Chinese counterparts in 2015 under the G20's troika system. The troika model brings together past, present and future hosts for the purpose of giving the G20 agenda something like continuity in the absence of a formal secretariat. This structure has been replicated for each of the outreach groups.

As Russia drops out of the troika and China comes in, 2015 will see the dissolution of the RAT pack troika (Russia, Australia, Turkey), and the creation of the CAT-pack. While the success of the G20 and the outreach processes in 2015 will largely come down to the ambition and managerial ability of the Turkish participants, there will be some opportunity for Australians to impart their experience and advice as 2014 hosts to their Chinese counterparts. The window for this knowledge-sharing to have any influence on the 2016 agenda is pretty small, but it will become even smaller by the time China assumes its presidency at the end of 2015, so the B, C, L, T, Y (and any other letters attached to the number 20) will want to get moving.

*disclaimer, the author was a T20 participant.

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