Corporate Meeting

Diplomacy Debrief: COP27, ASEAN, and G20 Summits

Monday, November 21, 2022

David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment, Council on Foreign Relations; @Alice_C_Hill

Senior Fellow for Global Governance, Council on Foreign Relations; Distinguished Professor, School of International Service, American University; @MilesKahler

Fellow for International Political Economy, Council on Foreign Relations; @ZongyuanZoeLiu


Adjunct Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations; @heidirediker

President Biden just completed an important diplomacy tour with stops at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Egypt, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Cambodia, and the Group of Twenty (G20) summit in Indonesia. Panelists discuss what was accomplished during these meetings, and what more can be done to address pressing international challenges, including climate change, instability in global energy markets, and security in the Asia-Pacific region.


CREBO-REDIKER: Hi. Thank you very much for joining us today for the diplomacy debrief on COP27, ASEAN, and the G20 Summits. So we’re here to discuss President Biden’s whirlwind diplomatic tour to these three summits in Egypt, Cambodia, and in Bali, Indonesia. And we’re covering quite a bit of territory—geographic territory, policy territory—all in a context of changing geopolitics. And we have a great panel of experts today from CFR to offer some key takeaways and explore some of the challenges and opportunities that were addressed at all of these summits.

Today we have Alice Hill, Miles Kahler, and Zoe Liu. This is a very brief introduction to our three speakers, because I know you have their bios in your—in your materials. Alice Hill is the David Rubenstein senior fellow for energy and the environment. Miles Kahler is a CFR senior fellow for global governance and a professor at the American University School of International Service. And Zoe Liu is a fellow for international political economy at CFR, whose work focuses on international political economy. And her regional expertise is in East Asia, and specifically China and Japan.

So we’re going to have a conversation for about the first thirty minutes, and then please think about some questions that you want to ask, and use the raise-hand function or put them in the—in the Q&A box. And I’d like to start today with Alice. We had the agreement come out of COP27 on Sunday. What were some of the main issues that we focused on at this summit, and that you would say had been a success? There have been quite a few—quite a few concerns about objectives not being met in certain parts of COP27, but I guess compared to COP26 in Glasgow what needs more attention and what needs more enthusiasm, I guess?

HILL: Well, thank you, Heidi. What a pleasure to join you today. My takeaway from COP27—I did have the pleasure of attending—is that progress—marginal progress was made, but there is a yawning gap between what we need to get done and what we have accomplished. Some good news was loss and damage. That has been an issue lurking at virtually every COP, since they started in the early 1990s. It’s essentially the most vulnerable nations stating: We need some form of compensation for the harm that we’re already experiencing and prepare for the climate impacts, whether they be rain bombs, or wildfires, droughts, extreme heat.

So finally, in the late hours, there was an agreement reached to create a loss and damage fund. The details remain to be worked out, but that was an accomplishment. Another accomplishment was to call out that there needs to be—or, should be explored that there’s some kind of reform of the multilateral development bank system in terms of recognizing that the debt loads on the most vulnerable countries—and we have to keep in mind that they’ve had virtually nothing to do with creating the climate crisis. They have not been responsible for the human-caused emissions that are forming this blanket around the globe and causing average temperatures to increase, just trapping the heat inside. They haven’t had much to do with that. So they are, however, saddled with heavy debt loads, worsened under the pandemic. And they need relief, and that came to the fore.

Another important endeavor was the Global Methane Pledge. It now is 150 nations. This recognizes that methane is among the most damaging of the greenhouse gases in the short term. It causes about eighty times more heat in a twenty-year period than carbon. So the idea is, if we can cut our methane emissions now that will buy us more time to deal with the carbon, which is longer lasting in the atmosphere but the heating is a bit more delayed. So pledges to address that.

But ultimately the big issue is are we going to control heating to keep it to safe levels? At the Paris agreement, nations stretched for 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times for the increase in temperatures. And subsequent to that in 2018, scientists on a consensus basis said we need to hold to 1.5 to really avoid catastrophic harm. We’re on track now to just blow past that 1.5. Methane, coming out of this agreement, is putting us closer.

And unfortunately, in Glasgow there was an agreement to push increased action to this year, in COP27 in Egypt. And we didn’t see the necessary ambition to rein in the growing emissions. In fact, emissions have grown in the past year. They increased by 1 percent. And we saw the largest concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, as measured in Mauna Loa Observatory, on the very top of a mountain in Hawaii, where we’ve been measuring these things since 1958, we hit 421 parts per million. And that doesn’t bode well for the planet.

So I think it’s a very mixed review coming out of COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, on the edge of the Red Sea this year.

CREBO-REDIKER: So I would imagine that energy security concerns in many parts of the world were likely to, you know, weigh in heavily on some of the commitments that countries were willing to make at this particular time to go beyond the commitments made in Glasgow. What was—since you were actually—you were there on the ground, what were—you know, what were some of the points of tension? And what countries had, I guess, more weight than others in this—in this particular meeting?

HILL: Well, I think the thing that was the most revealing to me is that the fossil fuel nations really don’t want to curb emissions now. And so there was heavy lobbying going on. We had more lobbyists from fossil fuel companies than there were from the vulnerable nations present. So there’s a great deal of invested interest in keeping the attachment to fossil fuels. So the Ukrainian war certainly has highlighted that energy security is a challenge, but the International Energy Agency has noted that it might be actually the jumpstart to clean energy because ultimately there can be more security with clean energy. You’re not importing fossil fuels from some other state. You’re not dependent on the geopolitical system for your own energy with clean energy.

So mixed signals, but I think that became evident, that there was a tenacious hold on fossil fuels. So couldn’t get that in the final agreement. And we really couldn’t get that beyond the watered-down language that came out of the Glasgow climate pact that essentially we would work on—not have unabated coal power, and that we would remove inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. But there was no mention of reduction of fossil fuels in the agreement that came out of Sharm El Sheikh, the Sharm El Sheikh Implementation Plan.

And that was noted as a huge challenge, if we are serious about—if we, and when I say “we,” the global nations, because virtually all nations have agreed to the Paris agreement and subsequent accords, including this latest agreement. If we are going to stick to this 1.5 degrees. And the challenge is, if we go past that very, very serious implications. With every degree of—tenth of a degree of heating it’s exponentially worse, and to the point where although we have this loss and damage fund, compensation really won’t address the problem. It’ll be just too hot in some places for human civilization as we’ve known it.

CREBO-REDIKER: Thank you so much. And I’m sure you’ll get a lot of questions in the later part of this session.

I’d like to turn now to Miles, who will be—you know, I’ll ask a few questions about G20 and ASEAN. But I’d like to start with the ASEAN summit, because the significance of ASEAN is often overlooked. And the members are incredibly important. The White House has elevated its engagement with ASEAN countries and with ASEAN to a comprehensive strategic partnership. So we had secretary-level—you know, Cabinet secretary-level attendance to all of the different component parts of the ASEAN summits over this—over this past year in Cambodia. Can you just tell me a little bit about what your main takeaways are? Because when I—you know, when I look, there’s a very, very long, long laundry list of what the White House says we’ve accomplished. Can you make—can you give us your thoughts on that?

KAHLER: Well, I think—I think you’re absolutely right, Heidi, that this is a very important group of countries that are often overlooked because, actually, they’re doing quite well and, you know, don’t present the kinds of problems that, for example, the Middle East presents to us every day. Ten economies. Very diverse. From the very richest, Singapore, which has a GDP per capita more than thirty times the poorest economy, which is Cambodia. Very different political regimes. Very different religions. And an amazing degree of ability to deal with conflict resolution.

Now, Myanmar is a major dark spot. And that wasn’t dealt with directly at the summit. But this is a—for a government, the United States government, that is concerned about competition with China and turning its attention to the Asia-Pacific region, ASEAN is absolutely critical. As a group, this is the seventh-largest economy in the world, and on track to become possibly the fourth largest by 2050. So very important. A region also that is very interested, overshadowed by China.

I’m sure, Zoe Liu will want to talk about this, very dependent on China economically, in many ways, but also very intent on diversifying their economies to other parts of the world and continuing to develop their relations with EU and the United States in particular. And also benefitting from the diversification that’s taking place away from China by the United States. Especially countries like Vietnam, which as economic conflict between China and the United States has grown has benefitted enormously from foreign direct investment and trade substituting, in effect, for China. So a very important grouping.

I would have to say perhaps the most important thing was we showed up. Because for the last three ASEAN summits of the Trump administration, President Trump did not show up. And the fact that the Biden administration has reengaged with ASEAN I think is a very important step forward. There were several themes, I would say. The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, as you said, is a very long laundry list. It’s not even clear what the actual action items will be, and when they will be actionable. But there were some interesting themes that you could read through the summit press conferences and the description of the Strategic Partnership.

One is infrastructure investments, which is a big theme and very important for ASEAN countries and, indeed, many of the emerging economies. And also a big emphasis on climate change, which fits with COP27, and concerns about greening their economies as well. Here, once again, you can see the importance for the United States in shaping this partnership and competing with China and emphasizing these themes as a way of competing with China.

And I’d have to say, for ASEAN, a certain degree of competition between the United States and China is a benefit for them. They do not want, however, to have this competition to deepen into a rivalry that would force them to choose between China and the United States or get involved or embroiled in any kind of a military competition between the two. So the negative is, if you read through what happened at the ASEAN summit, in general in the Asia-Pacific region the United States is operating with one hand tied behind its back. And that’s trade since we left TPP.

I think there are those that expected the Biden administration to reengage on the trade front. That has not happened. We don’t talk about CPTPP, which is the successor to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And we launched the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity last spring, but it’s pretty small potatoes, I would have to say, compared to what the countries of the region would like, in that it does not provide any concessions on market access, which is really—market access to the United States—which is what they’re really interested in.

So unfortunately, I think everyone is happy in ASEAN that the United States has reengaged with the region. But, once again, it’s a political and, to a degree, military reengagement. But the economic side is still seriously lacking, I would say. And until the United States comes to terms with trade and trade agreements once more, that is likely to continue.

CREBO-REDIKER: So, Zoe, I’d like to pick up on something that Miles talked about in terms of the ability of ASEAN to manage between the increasing competition between the U.S. and China. And really, I guess, add some color to how you think this—the U.S. at ASEAN this time around made a difference, or moved the needle, or if the whole context has changed, in your opinion, over the past—over the past year?

LIU: Thank you very much, Heidi, for the question. And it’s a privilege to be here with Alice and Miles.

I would—to respond to your question, Heidi, I would say this time I would actually agree with what Miles mentioned in terms of, you know, actually this time the United States, we are there, and we are present. I think that has sent a very strong message to the region, in the sense that, you know, the United States is back at the table. I think that’s a very reassuring message, especially with regard to the heightened tension in Taiwan and all that, right?

But I have to say, sometimes China’s—simply because of its geographic proximity, because of the cultural and the people-to-people relationship, China’s influence in ASEAN region is simply too big and too difficult for ASEAN countries to divert—to diversify away from anytime soon. And the Chinese diplomat really likes to emphasize China’s many firsts in the context of ASEAN’s relationship with the rest of the world. And, like, for example, I remember talking—doing interviews with Chinese scholars as well as listening to prominent Chinese diplomats talking.

So they would like to emphasize China’s—all the firsts, including kind of being the first to forge strategic partnership with ASEAN, the first to sign up or to join ASEAN’s Treaty for Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia. They also like to talk about China’s the first to start FTA negotiations with ASEAN, and so on and so forth. So the idea of China being—emphasize China being there—not just being there, but actually being the first to support ASEAN is something that is a strong card that China can play.

And apart from the diplomatic support, China also played—especially during the President Xi Jinping’s first two terms in the context of BRI—China spent a lot of BRI-related money in infrastructure in Laos. Like, there is the China-Laos railway already up and running. There is also China and Thailand railway, China-Malaysia, China-Indonesia, this kind of railway at different stages of development. So from that perspective, I think there is a strong case being made to say China is not just a diplomatic—China has not just implemented the diplomatic engagement, but also put money where China’s mouth is.

And then on the other hand, China also really has been, over the past—over the past decade, China actually dominated trade with ASEAN. At least China in terms of trade values, China surpassed the United States for about thirteen—for about the past thirteen years. And in particular for the past two years, China’s trade with ASEAN—bilateral trade with ASEAN has been the top. Meaning that China is ASEAN’s largest trading partner, and ASEAN’s largest trading partner is China. And so all this simply means China has a very dominant influence with the region.

However, it goes back to your question with regard to what it shows differently as of this summit. I think ASEAN leaders made it very clear that they do not want to choose a side between the United States or China. And I think this is not—this is nothing unusual. I think many of our U.S. allies would not want to make—choose a side. And on the other hand, ASEAN leaders also recognized that right now they are dependent on China for trade, but they also recognized a potential opportunity. If international companies are trying to move their supply chain—not just a segment of their supply chain—outside of China, then ASEAN geographically is relatively close and relatively easy, and cheap, to do that. So they recognize there is an opportunity.

And then just to put some numbers in there, right now labor costs in China on a per-month basis is about—in U.S. dollar terms—it is about $380 per month, wage cost. But if you look at Cambodia or Laos, that’s half of what it’s costing international business. There is—a value judgement could be made. So therefore, ASEAN leaders recognize there is an opportunity. And they actually do depend on the United States for innovation as well as security. Therefore, there is a strong incentive to diversify their trade relationship as well as their economic relationship. But that does not necessarily mean it’s going to happen overnight.

CREBO-REDIKER: So turning to the—to the last summit that we are speaking about today, the G20, which tends to overshadow ASEAN and other summits, aside from the three-hour meeting with—between President Biden and President Xi Jinping, which eased some of the tensions. At least, the fact that they were communicating directly in person garnered a lot of attention. But, Miles, can you take us through sort of what goals were met and advanced? I mean, a lot of people are saying just the fact that we had a communique come out at all, even though not everyone signed up to every single point, that was sort of flagged as we actually, you know, got to print and sign something. And also, to the way that the Ukraine conflict was managed. If you could just walk us through some of the highlights, from your perspective.

KAHLER: Sure. Well, absolutely. The G20 is a kind of perpetual disappointment when it comes to international organizations, I’m afraid. Everyone always comes out of the G20 thinking, what are they doing? Or what is it worth to bring all these leaders together to summits year after year? Well, we have a global agenda that’s growing. It has become even more urgent in one year with the Ukraine conflict. And therefore, consensus becomes harder and harder to reach. So it’s quite remarkable, as you said, that a communique can be even reached.

So I’ll leave it to my expert colleague Zoe to talk about the bilateral between Biden and Xi Jinping, because that’s one important part of these summits, is the bilaterals on the side and what’s accomplished there. This was Xi Jinping’s coming out party. He was out of China at a major summit, and he clearly saw it that way. So we would want to talk about the bilaterals themselves. I think the G20 summits had their day, as you certainly know, Heidi, in the global financial crisis. That was when it was created as a summit. It was an important—and it played an important role during the global financial—that’s long in the past. And that role has never really been regained fully. On the other hand, I do think it plays an important signaling function to say that international cooperation is underway. It’s a fifty-two-paragraph declaration—the Bali declaration. Very detailed on many, many items of global importance.

And that the top leaders are on board. And almost all the top leaders were there. Putin did not appear, because the U.S. and the Europeans had indicated they would not sit at the table with Putin. But his foreign minister was there. So Russia was represented. No one has walked out of the G20. And it develops a consensus among the largest economies and sets an agenda for other multilateral organizations. I think that’s very important to point out. If you look at the end of the declaration, they give thanks to a list of multilateral organizations—a very long list of multilateral organizations—who are all going to read this declaration and say: This is probably going to be on our agenda going forward, if this is—you know, if these leaders follow through and if their, you know, subordinates follow through. So that’s very important as well.

On Ukraine, very interesting and very—I mean, I think—I don’t know whether the United States, the Europeans—probably the Indonesians, who chaired this summit, deserve a lot of credit for this, because at one point the Indonesian line was this is an economic organization. Which is true, basically, in the past, although it covers lots of global issues. And a security issue, like Ukraine, does not—it should not be on the agenda at all. Well, that wasn’t going to fly with the United States and EU in particular. So then the question is, how do we—how do we bring in the Ukraine to satisfy the United States, the EU, and others who support the Ukrainian side, and not cause Russia and China—which has typically been aligned with Russia on this issue—to leave the G20 and leave the summit, or refuse to attend?

And the Indonesians made it clear they were not going to exclude Russia, from the very beginning. So very clever drafting. If you look at the agreement, some have said that it issues a condemnation of Russia and Russian aggression. But in fact, what it does is cite the United Nations resolution about Russian aggression, which most of the G20, but not all, supported in March of this year. So there’s unanimous agreement, but a lot of other language that says, well, the members disagreed about Ukraine in part, to kind of hedge that.

But what is—what brought everyone on board was a unanimous agreement that the war in Ukraine is harming the global economy. And I think the United States and the Europeans deserve credit for bringing onboard the emerging economies who are not really in favor of the whole Ukraine sanctioning of Russia, and they’ve often abstained or sometimes abstained on U.N. resolutions like the current—the recent one on reparations. So you bring them on board by saying it’s all about the global economy. And the Ukraine war is definitely hurting you in the global economy.

Especially food security, which is a very long part of the declaration deals with food security, energy, debt, a whole host of issues. That was the way that Ukraine was brought into the G20. And that was the way that Russia actually ended up being quite isolated, in a way, at the end. The fact that they had to accept a resolution which cited the United Nations language condemning their aggression in Ukraine. I’d also point out that the nuclear weapons issue was very important. And Zoe may wish to talk about the Chinese position on use of nuclear weapons, which there have been different readings. But in the G20 declaration, the use or threat of nuclear weapons was clearly declared as inadmissible. Not just the use, the threat of nuclear weapons. And that suggested China gave a certain amount of ground in this particular forum to be much more critical of the Russians than they had elsewhere.

So a very interesting exercise in diplomacy. There were lots of other interesting parts to the declaration. I think the food security issue loomed very large for many of the developing economies, once again echoing what Alice has said about COP27. There was a call on the multilateral development banks to bring forward action to mobilize additional financing. A lot of pressure on the World Bank and other MDBs right now to up their game, basically, on climate and other issues. And a whole host of others you can talk about in the Q&A. But the bilateral was very important.

CREBO-REDIKER: So I have—like, I have a lot of points that I think I would like to draw out from what Miles just said, and ask for Zoe’s weigh-in. But just as we’re getting close to the—to the time when I’d like to open up for broader Q&A, there were a number of points in ASEAN and the G20 that touched on climate, on climate finance, on support for—I guess, broader support and energy security. Is there something, Alice, that you think draws all these three summits together in a way that, I guess, could take some of the pressure off the underperformance of COP27, in your view? Or were they lacking across the board in real support for transition?

HILL: Well, the G20 essentially previewed what was in the agreement. There is nothing coming out of there that’s especially saying we’re going beyond what is contemplated in the agreement reached at COP27. They reaffirmed the 1.5 degrees. They called on the developed world to honor their promise, which they had not so far, of providing one—mobilizing financing in the form of $100 billion per year. That was supposed to have started no later than 2020. It hasn’t started now. The latest estimate is maybe next year. And of course, that’s been a sore point for a very long time.

And the financing doesn’t—so the G20 called on that, the COP27 called on that, and then there’s huge concerns about what the monies that have come forward look like. They mostly go to mitigation, which is cutting the harmful greenhouse gas emissions. And the most vulnerable nations are saying: We need money just to protect ourselves from these climate impacts. They don’t have the type of infrastructure that the developed world has—for example, levees and other means of—air conditioning—means of keeping at bay, or at least blunting some of these impacts.

So I don’t see that there was—there were pronouncements from the G20 in the leaders declaration, but I don’t see it as providing the comfort that we are on track to actually tackle the climate problem. That group of nations is responsible for about 80 percent of the emissions. So if they really follow through, they could do a lot to solve the problem. But we’re not there yet.

CREBO-REDIKER: All right. I’m going to ask Alexis if she can go over to see if we have any hands raised or any questions in the Q&A, and call on—in the order that you found those hands raised. And can’t wait to continue this conversation. And I want to get Zoe back in on the—on China at the G20 as well.

OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.)

We will take our first question from Sheri Fink.

Q: Hello. Thank you so much for having this today.

I was just wondering if you could comment on any actions on pandemic preparedness and response priorities in these meetings.

CREBO-REDIKER: Who wants to take that on?

HILL: Well, I have a simple answer. There wasn’t anything about that at the COP27. Certainly there was concern that people were getting sick at COP27, but—(laughs)—but not concern about what we’re going to do about future pandemics.

CREBO-REDIKER: Miles, was there something? I think I heard there was something about pandemic preparedness at the G20.

KAHLER: There was a restatement of a commitment to pandemic preparedness in the G20 declaration. I honestly don’t have the details here, but they certainly reiterated support for the WHO, which I thought was quite interesting, as a central organization for dealing with pandemics in the future. So attention was paid to it. But I have to say, as often happens with the G20, it seemed to be somewhat overshadowed in the declaration by food security and other immediate issues that flow from the Ukraine crisis and the Ukraine war, in some respects.

LIU: And to reiterate what Miles and Alice just said, in the context of COP27, I personally did not see any particular emphasis on pandemic preparedness. But in the context of the G20, in particular bilateral meeting between the United States and China, there are not necessarily agreement on the issue on the page from either the U.S.’s side or China’s side, saying that, you know, the two countries reached some sort of agreement on pandemic cooperation and things related to that. But if we look—but if we look at the ASEAN statement, the summit statement, actually the ASEAN did, dedicated a paragraph talking about pandemic relief, and things related to that.

CREBO-REDIKER: So we have a—we have a question comes in through the Q&A from Jenny Tang from Radio Free Asia. And that’s directed at Alice.

What role do you think China should play in loss and damage? And do you think China as a developing country, and one of the biggest economies, should or should not contribute to the loss and damage fund?

HILL: Well, certainly that was an issue that was bantered about at COP27. Of course, in 1992 China was considered a developing nation, but its economy has grown since then, as has its emissions. And now it is the world’s largest emitter, by far. It’s responsible for about a quarter of current emissions. So it is causing a lot of harm, just as the United States has historically. And the United States is the second-largest emitter at 11 percent. Far less than China at this point.

But I believe that China is now at a stage that it should be contributing more to pay for the damage it’s caused. I believe that the countries that have been responsible should stand up and recognize that there is liability here. We don’t call it liability, but I’m a former judge. And if this were a court of law, they’re probably—assuming the statute of limitations hasn’t run—there is a tie to the actions in certain countries and the global warming that’s occurred. So that they should pay up seems the proper thing to do.

CREBO-REDIKER: So I’m going to ask if we have—I think we have several more raised hands. If I could hand it over to Alex.

OPERATOR: We will take our next question from Dee Smith.

Q: Thank you, all of you, very much. It’s an excellent discussion. Zoe, good to see you. I have a question for Zoe and a question for Alice. And I’ll make it very quick.

So, Zoe, do you—what do you ascribe the less-aggressive tone being taken by China in particular towards the U.S., particularly as reported in at least English language Chinese media? Is it—is it a reflection of Xi Jinping’s strength or of his weakness? And the number of problems he has, and the desire to back off of an upfront or frontal collision with the U.S.? And for Alice, I am aware this is on the record, but I’ve spoken to a number of people with real expertise, as you have, on this subject of climate change. And several of them have said, frankly, that 1.5 is simply no longer reachable as a goal. But they’re not willing to say that publicly. So I wonder if you could give some color to that. Thank you both very much.


LIU: Yeah, sure. Dee, thank you very much for tuning in. It’s great to hear your voice again.

That’s an excellent question. And I think, you know, probably Alice and Miles could also chime in here as well. Because, you know, Alice you are—you are in Egypt, and observed a lot of the climate-related conversation going on, right? And personally, I was a little bit—I was a little bit surprised, pleasantly surprised, when reading the news saying that actually—or, reading the news, John Kerry and the Chinese Climate Envoy Xie Zhenhua, those two guys met before Xi Jinping and Biden met in person. So I feel like, OK, so now it’s really—the United States and China really are starting to talk again, right?

And this—I read in the Economist over the weekend that the Economist made a very good line to say that, you know, only children refuse to talk when they are angry at each other. And I think that’s a really good way to describe the United States and China in the sense that, you know, the two countries being the two most important in terms of global stakes, right, that bilateral relations are probably most important at this current—at the current stage.

So the warming—the relatively friendly (talks directed ?) in China, actually I would describe it as a sign of, not necessarily Xi Jinping, his personal position or weakness, but perhaps a recognition of two things. One is, he—at least from domestic politics—the perspective, he consolidated or secured a third term. Therefore, he can move down his priority list. And if I were him, I would prioritize China’s relationship with the United States and with the West, in order to get the economy on track. So that’s one thing.

And then secondly, the warming tone probably is also very much reflective of Chinese policymakers’ recognition of the damage being done to the Chinese economy. On the one hand, their COVID-related policies have already caused a lot of damage to the various sectors in the Chinese economy. And on the other hand, waves of U.S. export control policies have really created a dent in a lot of strategic industries that have been highlighted by Xi Jinping and his associates. So I think based on—related to this, the warming tone probably reflects—is probably a result of a self-reflection and awareness of the damage to China’s relationship with the rest of the world, as well as the Chinese economy itself.

HILL: So I would add that it was very good news to hear that China was reengaging. And there was a dramatic moment. The Chinese representative did show up unexpectedly at an event that Secretary Kerry was speaking at, now Special Envoy for Climate Kerry, regarding the Global Methane Pledge. And the Global Methane Pledge has been a pledge that has really been tied to the United States. They’ve been pushing this at Glasgow. The Chinese didn’t join the pledge, but there were certain indications that they were concerned about methane as well. And that was a major step forward. So it’s—as Zoe said, it’s important that these two not partners, strategic competitors, are talking, because that’s better for the globe, and certainly better for climate change as well.

On your point about 1.5 degrees, before the gavel fell at Sharm El Sheikh to open the ceremonies, the U.N. had issued a report essentially saying there was no credible pathway to 1.5 degrees. And I think most scientists believe that, because in order to be on that pathway we would have to cut our current emissions by about at least 43-45 percent by 2030. That’s seven years from now. I think everyone thinks that would be a very hard task to accomplish. Yet, why do the countries keep hanging onto this 1.5 degrees? And that had been a matter of puzzlement for me. So during the conference I spoke to some representatives who had previously been negotiators for countries.

And it’s really a symbolic move, that if we release that goal, that thing in mind, it could give some countries, and particular concern are China and Russia, permission to rollback their efforts to trying to get to what is a safe level. So I think there is recognition in the scientific world that 1.5 isn’t going to be the—where we end up. We will pass it. There’s some hope we might be able to get—pull it back. But we will pass it. And right now, the estimates are closer to three degrees by 2100. And three degrees Celsius is very serious. That’s a lot of change to our climatic system. So negotiators want to push for that 1.5 because on a consensus basis the scientists who report to the U.N. Framework Convention, this group that’s meeting under the 190-plus nations meeting, has said: We need to stay at or below 1.5 degrees to avoid cataclysmic harm. So that’s why everyone is holding tight, even though the evidence is indicating that goal is beyond our reach at this point.

CREBO-REDIKER: So hold onto ambition, basically.

HILL: Exactly. Exactly. (Laughter.)

CREBO-REDIKER: Alexis, I think we have a couple of callers who have raised their hands.

OPERATOR: We will take our next question from Linda Yang. Ambassador Yang, please accept the unmute prompt. It looks like we’re having technical difficulties. We will take our next question from Craig Charney.

Q: This is Craig Charney from Charney Research. We’re doing some work on global governance now, so I was intrigued by the panel. And I think the coincidence of the three conferences has led to a really fruitful discussion.

My question deals more with the emergence of the G20 as a forum. And I was particularly interested in Miles’ comments on this. You know, given the nature of the Security Council permanent members and the G7, they’re small and rather exclusive groups. This does seem to be the only grouping that regularly brings together powers east and west, large and mid, and so forth. Perhaps you could call it kind of the central committee of the international system. I wonder if it’s emerging that way? I mean, I was struck, for instance, by the fact that the $100 billion for climate assistance that was such a hot topic at the COP this year was, after all, something that emerged initially at the 2010 Copenhagen G20 meeting, which was, in retrospect, looking like perhaps a more successful failure than it was thought it be at the time. So I’m wondering if Miles or anybody else would actually share my impression that the G20 is rising in significance as a venue in itself, as a consensus forger, as well as a place for bilaterals to occur.

CREBO-REDIKER: Miles, you want to give that—

KAHLER: Well, I think, as I mentioned, I still think the high point for the G20 was in the time of the global financial crisis in 2008, 2009, 2010. And its role then as a kind of coordinator of regulatory policy, macroeconomic policy, giving coverage to leaders that were pursuing policies of fiscal expansion, was very important, compared to what has ensued since that time. It was very hard to see much, for example, new on economic policy coordination in the G20 Bali declaration. And that’s partly because a lot depends on the United States Federal Reserve.

But going to your point about it, it is a directorate, I would say, of multilateralism, in some sense. It is what we have as a directorate of multilateral organizations, particularly those that deal with economic, health, non-security issues. Security agenda’s a very sensitive one. As I mentioned, it was so sensitive that there was a sense that Ukraine should be off this agenda all together, even though it’s this, you know, the proverbial elephant in the room, there were members who thought it shouldn’t be. And Indonesia shared that view, at least initially. So it cannot be a forum like the U.N. Security Council, in that security will always be, I think, an issue that will be complicated for the G20 to deal with. But on other global issues, especially those that involve multilateral action and direction to multilateral organizations—as we mentioned, the MDBs, which are being asked to up their game on climate—that sort of signal being sent and the follow up that can ensue from that I think can be quite important, conceivably.

But it’s not—it’s an informal organization. Its membership is very indeterminant. These are the largest economies in the world, but not all the largest economies in the world. For example, Nigeria is now the largest economy in Africa, but it’s not represented in the G20. And South Africa is, even though it’s now the second-largest economy in Africa. And there’s only one economy in Africa represented. So its representative quality and other aspects of its membership pose some issues. But, as you mentioned, it’s an important forum, I would say, where the G7, the industrialized countries, and including the bigger economies like China, have to listen to the other economies that are important about the spillover effects of their policies. And I think that was a major theme of the Bali declaration, which is basically the Ukraine conflict is having big spillover effects. They’re economic. They’re affecting us. Listen to us.

And that came up in the bilateral between Xi Jinping—the readout of the bilateral between Xi Jinping and Biden, it had an interesting phrase in it. Which is: We should collaborate on these global issues because that’s what the international community expects. And I think there is a sense of, you know, peer pressure from these near peers among the emerging economies on China, the United States, and the other big powers, kind of to behave yourself. You know, to think about what your actions imply for us. And that’s a very important role for the G20. So I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s rising. I think since the Trump administration, where the U.S. was in many ways isolated in the G20 very often on climate and other issues, it’s had a comeback. And its performance this time, given all the possible conflicts within the G20 over so many issues, was actually pretty impressive, I think.

CREBO-REDIKER: So one of the things that the G20 also does, particularly in an era where we see increasing geopolitical conflict, is it does give that opportunity to meet at the leaders level and have that kind of interaction that President Biden and President Xi Jinping had. And those informal opportunities for leaders to have pull-asides that we may or may not ever hear about or read about, but just to build up rapport, to kind of see the huma on the other side—(laughs)—of that Zoom call or that decision that you’re taking that will have, you know, potentially very significant consequences for, you know, whether they’re economic or security-related. Having that—there’s really no—there’s nothing quite like having that direct interaction available in a one period of time, with such a high-level group. So I would just—I’d add that in there.

I know we have several other hands that are up, as well as Q&A coming in the chat. So let me ask—let me ask Alexis to go to the next—the next question, please.

OPERATOR: We will take our next question from Tess Davis.

Q: Hi. Good afternoon. My name is Tess Davis. And I’m an attorney, as well as executive director of a nonprofit and think tank, The Antiquities Coalition.

So this year, in a pretty unprecedented move, all these three initiatives highlighted cultural preservation. The Bali declaration and the ASEAN leaders declaration committed the organizations to, you know, admittedly vague, but to combatting the illicit trade in art and artifacts, while the COP implementation plan also included a broader provision on cultural preservation more broadly.

And the fight against antiquities looting and trafficking has also been among the few bright spots in the bilateral relationship between the United States and Cambodia, of course this year’s chair, with Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly referring to America as the world’s number-one country for recovering stolen art, during the joint summit that we held together in Phnom Penh. And so I was just hoping you could say a few word about this either specifically or the role that cultural diplomacy plays in these initiatives more broadly. Thank you.

CREBO-REDIKER: Miles, do you want to take a stab at that?

KAHLER: Not my—not my normal wheelhouse, to say the least. And I mean, I have been certainly dealing with illicit financial flows, and certainly cultural artifacts are part of the illicit flows that have come along with globalization. I’m not aware that the G20, apart from the parts that were described in the Bali declaration, has a very significant role to play, except, once again, as a signaling device to say this is an important issue on the international agenda, and one that governments should take into account.

It is a complicated one. Having just returned from Europe, which is home to many cultural artifacts which were removed from other parts of the world over time, some of them with very questionable provenance, you know, this raises—this is a big issue for museums and other cultural institutions in the industrialized world, and the rich countries in general. So it’s a complicated one to work out. I don’t know if Zoe has a Chinese perspective on this or not.

LIU: On my end, I would just add—put a footnote to what Miles just said. Indeed, Europe has been the center for a lot of this—or, at the foreground of returning this illicit or ill-gotten, for a variety of reasons, artifacts. And from China’s perspective, there has been—if you remember, like, a couple of years ago, even inside China, there was a major movement of—at the local provinces, everyone was building out major—like, major museums. And that was the moment when a lot of these—from a domestic politics perspective—Chinese scholars and local politicians, they were really interested in, say, for example, whether the British Museum should return some of the Chinese statues back to China.

But right now, I think cultural diplomacy is probably an important aspect for bilateral relations between the United States and China. However, it was not a part of the conversation in the broader discussion. At least, you know, when we read out the White House—the White House readout or the Chinese readout, people highlighted what Alice was talking about, the climate change conversation as well as the food security, but not necessarily culture. Perhaps, you know, culture is this inherent thing. It’s great, and everybody would—it’s a thing that people would agree on it, therefore people may just take it for granted. But it’s very important, I would say.

CREBO-REDIKER: So next we have a question from Cameron Thomas-Shah.

And his question is: How was Vietnam’s internal challenges related to human rights and aversion to taking on additional debt viewed at COP27, when weighed against its net-zero commitment from COP26?

HILL: So I can speak to this. I didn’t hear—and I wasn’t there the entire time, and obviously not in every room. It’s an enormous trade show, with pavilions spreading across a broad geography. So I wasn’t aware of any discussions about Vietnam. I think it’s important to remember that the way the COP is set up, it’s a voluntary agreement. The goal is to have countries bring forward more ambition year after year to chip away at the climate challenge.

So although certainly the human rights records of different countries may be of concern to those in attendance, there may be activists. There were fewer activists present that were able to freely express themselves, from what I could tell, at Sharm El Sheikh. But there may be references to that. But in terms of the ultimate goal of these COPs, it’s to get the world closer to containing the heat. And that means that countries need to come forward with their commitments. So how they accomplish those commitments within their countries is not the subject of a great deal of scrutiny by other countries.

CREBO-REDIKER: So one thing I just want to go back to, if I can, Zoe, the G20, as we noted, had this sort of geopolitical shadow from the—from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And yet, it’s very hard to read the tea leaves from—on the relationship with China, the friendship without limits, the comments for/against neutrality, you know, what it means. Did you see anything in the tea leaves out of the G20 that you would say can shed light on what that China-Russia relationship, particularly vis-à-vis Ukraine, looks like moving forward?

LIU: Sure. Thank you, Heidi. That’s a great way to put it, you know, reading between the tea leaves. And I have always been a firm believer with regard to read between the tea leaves, in particular with regard to China’s so-called unlimited partnership with Russia. And I do think there are—since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I certainly see a lot of limits in this so-called unlimited partnership, and at this particular G20 summit in particular from the Biden-Xi Jinping in-person meeting. The readout from the White House is saying that both parties disagreed or had aligned with regard to against the nuclear threat, despite that from the Chinese readout there was nothing about it, right?

However, I would say—however, I would say if you—there are a lot of Chinese scholars, including after the G20 meeting, a lot of Chinese scholars, they put their discussions on WeChat as well as writing blog posts, talking about, oh, actually, this is a major step forward for U.S.-China relations, at least these two countries not just starting to talk again, but also made concrete steps setting the tone, setting the agenda for the future. And one of which would be, as Alice and Miles observed, food security and climate. And on the other hand, I think scholars and Chinese policymakers have shown they are extremely pragmatic.

On the one hand, everybody seems to agree that it’s a good thing that, you know, both sides have low expectations, because when you have low expectations your likelihood of being extremely disappointed, which would further poison the relationship, you know, that likelihood would be low. And actually, I think we achieved what we wanted to do, which was to set a floor for the deterioration of the relationship. Therefore, and the Chinese side reading out of it is to say that the Biden—oh, that the in-person meeting put a brake on this continued deterioration of the relationship, which is—you know, despite that journalists or scholars haven’t talked about it, actually people achieved this recognition.

But I would—I would put a sort of, like, a caution or a qualification on a lot of this optimism, simply because, you know, it’s always good to be cautious, recognizing the obstacles. In the sense that fundamentally right now, at least in the immediate term, bilateral relations still face challenges from perhaps three major category in the immediate term. Which is technology, especially U.S. export control. And then Russia’s war against Ukraine. China still did not call it as an invasion, despite recognizing the threat of nuclear threat. And then thirdly, Taiwan. And that—China reiterated that Taiwan is the basis of the basis of U.S.-China relations. So I think that’s quite a warning.

And then in the long run, I think there is fundamental differences between the United States and China in terms of perspective of the global order. Therefore, I would say probably it would be too much to say this is a relationship reset. However, it’s always great to have the two leaders talk in person again. And I think Blinken is going to go to China next year, so hopefully that relationship can continue improving.

CREBO-REDIKER: So I see we have one more raised hand, and that will probably our last question we’ll be able to get to. Alexis, can you go to the next questioner, please?

OPERATOR: We will take our next question from Moushumi Khan.

Q: Hi. Good afternoon. Thank you for the interesting panel. I am Moushumi Khan. I’m the U.S. alternative executive director at the Asian Development Bank.

And I wanted to ask the question about what role do you think MDBs play in all of this?

HILL: Well, I can speak to that. MDBs are critical. What we’re going to need is huge amounts of money. And it’s not just for the green transition, but it’s also for adaptation for these most vulnerable nations. And they have been saddled with debt. When a big event occurs, that leaves them with little money for recovery. So we need to see certainly better understanding from the MDBs, the World Bank, about what climate risk means for these countries, and then what debt instruments or financial instruments could help them be able to weather these big events in a way that allows them to continue to develop successfully.

But right now, we’re seeing an albatross of debt surrounding the necks of these countries. And they are really struggling to provide basic needs. That puts—in terms of global security, that’s a risk for the entire world, because as governments are unable to provide the basic necessities, there can be deep instability. So the mechanisms for getting more money—and it can’t be just all grants. It’s got to be including the private sector. That has been a theme that has been coming out of the COP for many years. But that would mean there would be more guarantees, there would be more support from the MDBs to allow private money to play a bigger role here.

Until that happens, these countries are really suffering. And they can’t make the kinds of investments that would keep them safer from these worsening climate impacts that not only kill people, they destroy livelihoods, and homes, and cause—can prompt great migration.

CREBO-REDIKER: So, I mean, the MDBs actually had a much higher prominence both at the G20 and at COP27, and the more expansive use of the balance sheets, and risk taking, the commitment that wealthy governments made to overhaul the MDBs, so that they can increase their funding, I think was a hallmark of both of those summits.

Miles, do you want to add something, and then we’ll just—

KAHLER: Well, just very briefly, I think you have to understand that looking at the—for example, the political situation in the United States, with a change in the House of Representatives, getting kind of grants to developing countries as part of the new facility is not going to be an easy task. So then you have to think, where can we get finance that’s not going to be politically—as politically difficult? Well, one obvious place is the MDBs. And I think Alice is absolutely right, there’s a lot of pressure on them now to really deal with the issue of climate with the urgency that the rest of the world sees, and not cling to their AAA bond status and the rest as carefully as they have in the past, and really get the—push the finance out. You know, get it out there.

And that includes the public-private partnerships, which they’ve also been rather slow to innovate on. So I think the pressure is there. And it’s because politically it’s kind of an easy way to get the financing out, generally speaking, as compared to bilateral types of finance. And of course, getting the private sector to do more is even easier, if it would do it. (Laughs.) So that’s another—that set of standards is another issue that came up at COP27 and also was mentioned in the G20 declaration. And that’s another set of issues for another discussion.

CREBO-REDIKER: So I would like to thank our three speakers today—Zoe, Miles, and Alice—for, I think, a great—a great conversation on, again, a lot of geography, a lot of topics, and do it with the—could have filled up another hour. So thank you for joining us today, and we look forward to seeing you at future CFR events. Thank you so much.

HILL: Thank you.



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