The perfect summit ㅡ at a costThe leaders of the Group of 20, which make up 85 percent of the world’s total gross domestic product, met in Hangzhou, China, for a summit that ran from Sunday to Monday. After the 2008 Beijing Olympics, it was the event in China that received the highest number of foreign leaders. While China has hosted two APEC summit meetings in the past, they are not comparable in size or prestige to the G-20.
Why did China hold this event in Hangzhou rather than in Beijing or Shanghai? About two years ago, a friend familiar with high-level Chinese officials told me, “In June 2013 when Xi Jinping had just become president, he visited the United States, and the White House proposed Sunnylands in California as the site of a summit meeting with President Barack Obama. Xi must have been deeply impressed by the choice of venue. The meeting in the casual vacation spot allowed the two leaders to have sincere conversations.
Xi then had Hangzhou in mind as a site for an important event in the future. The West Lake in Hangzhou is the perfect place to take a stroll with a foreign leader. And Xi had served in Hangzhou before for more than five years.”
After serving as governor of Fujian, Xi became governor and party secretary of Zhejiang in 2002. During his tenure in Zhejiang, of which Hangzhou is the capital, the province had the highest per capita income in China. The foundation for Xi’s ascent to the presidency was set in Hangzhou.
China pulled out all the stops to ensure a successful summit. More than 5,000 journalists from around the world covered the event, and the city was emptied out to make the summit trouble-free. Authorities ordered a weeklong vacation for all residents of Hangzhou, offering trip vouchers to encourage them to leave town. Those living in Hangzhou without registered residency were virtually kicked out.
As a result, two million of the city’s population of nine million left. Guests of the summit attended the event in a ghost town. This could only be possible in China.
Through the G-20, China declared it has become one of the main players in the world, and Xi has boasted his status as a world leader. But many residents of Hangzhou had to halt their bread-and-butter jobs for a while. Stores in the downtown area were closed, and street vendors in the busy parts of town were cleared.
The summit successfully illustrated the power of China, but at the same time, it showed the other side of the Chinese system. In China, nothing is impossible when the state is involved.
On Facebook, one Western reporter wrote that there were no people or cars in the streets of Hangzhou, and while the lights on the buildings were splendid, the lights inside apartments were off.
He wondered if he was actually in Pyongyang.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 6, Page 34
*The author is the Beijing bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.