China and India once waited for crumbs from the table of the world’s wealthiest nations but at the G8 summit in Germany this week, the two rapidly growing economies will be dining as near equals.
When Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomes the heads of the Group of Eight (G8) nations to the northern German resort of Heiligendamm on Wednesday, they will be joined by the leaders of Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa.
The G8 leaders will especially want to hear what Chinese President Hu Jintao and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have to say on the vexed issues of climate change and world trade.
Lalit Mansingh, a former Indian ambassador to the US, said the G8 “are being forced to recognize the new emerging powers”.
“A lot of international economic reports—by Goldman Sachs and others—say the Chinese economy definitely and the Indian economy possibly will overtake that of the United States quite soon.”
“So the invites to India, China, Brazil, etc., are a recognition of that global clout. It is also a recognition of the fact that the West will have to share power with new emerging centres.”
The so-called “G8 plus five” process formally began at the 2005 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, when British Prime Minister Tony Blair invited the heads of the five emerging economies to participate in the talks.
With a combined population of 2.4 billion people, China and India are huge, export-hungry markets for the world’s biggest exporters such as Germany.
And as their burgeoning economies consume ever more coal and natural resources, any future global agreement on limiting global warming would be fatally flawed without their participation.
China’s stunning economic growth has been achieved at a terrible cost to its environment.
On 4 June, it unveiled its long-awaited national strategy for addressing climate change, but insisted its economic development must come first.
Crucially, Beijing also insisted it would not commit to any caps on greenhouse gas emissions. Merkel, on the other hand, has vowed to use the summit to urge her G8 counterparts to sign up to mandatory limits on emissions.
China’s position is clear—the developed world must help it to cut pollution.
“The consequences of restricting the development of developing nations will be much more serious than the consequences of global warming,” Ma Kai, China’s top economic planner, told journalists on Monday.
In a briefing on the G8 summit last week, Beijing, however, dismissed the suggestion that, mindful of its growing economic muscle, it will block initiatives at the summit.
“I don’t think China will be a Mr No at the G8. We want to be a Mr Cooperation or Mr Partnership,” an official said.
“As far as China is concerned, we are a developing country and will be for a fairly long time to come.
“But we hope in the future, our cooperation with the G8 can be institutionalized and regular.”
The other members of the “plus five” group have other agendas to pursue.
For Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a face-to-face meeting is promised in Heiligendamm with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
South African President Thabo Mbeki, meanwhile, prepared for his summit trip with talks last week in Pretoria with Blair.
The wealthiest nations, Blair said, must make good on the promises they made at Gleneagles to massively increase aid to Africa.
Uday Bhaskar, an independent Indian analyst, said the fact that the G8 was making space at the negotiating table for newcomers is a formal recognition that the current G8 line-up—Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the US—fails to reflect the direction in which the world is moving.
“The emerging hexagon of relevant powers of this century are the US, the EU and Japan at level one and Russia, China and India on level two,” he said. “The invitation (to the emerging economies) is a formal acknowledgement of that.”