China 'Tries to Have it Both Ways' at G8

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - President Hu Jintao's presence at a gathering of G8 leaders in France is a reflection of China's desire to be accepted into an important and exclusive developed nations' club, analysts say, even as China continues to present itself as a spokesman for the developing world.

Hu at the weekend became the first Chinese leader to accept an invitation to attend a meeting of the leaders of the world's seven top industrialized democracies -- the U.S., Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada -- plus Russia.

Both Beijing and the summit organizers stressed beforehand that the new president was not attending the main meetings, but would meet the leaders on the sidelines, and also take part in expanded meetings with leaders from developing countries.

Russia was invited to G7 summits for several years before the grouping was widened to include it in what's now known as the G8.

China -- whose economy is larger than that of Canada and Italy and is much bigger than Russia's -- was first invited to attend a meeting three years ago, but declined.

A Chinese-language Hong Kong newspaper, Ching Chi Jih Pao, said the "groundbreaking" attendance at the meeting in Evian was the first step towards joining the G8.

But the Chinese leadership has been at pains to assure the developing world that it was not abandoning what it has long seen as its role as a spokesman for the Third World.

A report by the official Xinhua news agency said that Hu, at a meeting with three developing countries' leaders on Monday, had "stressed that China is a member of the developing countries."

It quoted him as telling the leaders of Algeria, Brazil and Malaysia that "China will always side with developing countries no matter what changes the international situation will undergo."

The four leaders attended an informal meeting between the G8 leaders and those of 11 developing countries. Chinese media reports made it clear China was firmly in the latter group.

Ching Cheong, a China analyst with Singapore's Straits Times, noted last week that ever since communist China's founder, Mao Zedong, proclaimed that China would "forever belong to the Third World," no subsequent leader has shifted from that stance.

That was why Beijing had emphasized the difference between attending the summit itself and the meetings on the sidelines, he said.

According to Jean-Pierre Cabestan, the director of the French Center for Research on Contemporary China, Beijing hoped to have it both ways.

"China wants both to be perceived as the spokescountry of the poor and developing nations as well as a full member of every exclusive club," he said from Hong Kong, where the center is based.

Cabestan said the fact the French government organized a pre-summit meeting on Sunday was merely "a diplomatic nicety" designed to enable China to meet with the leaders of the wealthy nations without appearing to contradict its own policies.

China accepted the invitation this time, he suggested, because its interests concur with those of the French government and "old" Europe - "in other word the part of Europe which is the most critical toward the U.S."

Hu's attendance also underscored Beijing's national and international ambitions.

Cabestan declared it "incredible" that the G8 countries were effectively "begging" China to join, despite the fact it is not a democracy.

Russia had only eventually been allowed to join after becoming "a constitutional, albeit not perfect, democracy," he said.

For Western countries, "the line separating authoritarian systems from democracies" appears to be becoming less and less important, Cabestan added, predicting that China's authoritarian nature would create disagreements among G8 members in future years.

While in France, Hu met President Bush Sunday for their first meeting since the Chinese leader became president.

Xinhua said the two discussed North Korea's nuclear program, Taiwan, terrorism, and the SARS epidemic which emerged in China late last year and spread to around 30 countries.

Beijing's initial attempts to play down or even cover up the spread of the flu-like virus were widely criticized, but upon becoming president in March Hu ordered officials to take effective and transparent action.

Xinhua reported that Bush had praised China's efforts and achievements in combating SARS.

It also said Hu had accepted an invitation from Bush to visit Washington, and that he had invited Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to visit China.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow