G20 Summit Australia 2014Image attribution: Agência Brasil/Roberto Stuckert Filho

A Year of Opportunity and Challenge as the G7 and G20 come to Asia

2016 will be an important year for Asia and its position in global summitry with Japan holding the presidency of the Group of 7 (G7) and China assuming a similar role in the Group of 20 (G20). The culmination of their respective efforts will be in May when Japan hosts a summit meeting of the G7 leaders in Shima and later in the year in September when China welcomes the G20 leaders’ to a summit in Hangzhou.

A guide to Global Summits - Understanding the Gaggle of Gs

What is their purpose?

One glance at international politics and there appears to be a multitude of groups and summits with different numbers in their name from G7 to G8 to G20. Regardless of the alphanumeric configuration, they all serve the same purpose - providing an opportunity for the world's most important leaders to speak to each other directly in an informal atmosphere and find solutions to global problems.

The G7

The G7 first met as a G6 (France, US, UK, West Germany, Japan and Italy) in November 1975 in response to a range of pressing economic issues. The agenda soon expanded beyond economics to include political, security and social issues. Membership also expanded with Canada joining in 1976 and the EU being given a seat at the summit table the following year. During the 1990s, Russia was included to form a G8 but has been excluded since 2014 in response to the crisis in Ukraine.

The G20

At the same time, since 2008, the G20 leaders have also met. Initially this was intended as a crisis meeting in response to the Global Economic and Finance Crisis but has developed into a regular date in the calendar of global summits. By including rising states such as China, Brazil and India, the G20 is seen to be a more representative and legitimate body then the exclusive G7.

What have they achieved in the past?

Both Gs have often been accused of being little more than talking shops making hollow commitments that are usually ignored. However, it is important to remember that these are informal groupings with no legal basis or formal membership. They are premised on the idea that bringing the most powerful leaders in the world together face-to-face can result in a breakthrough on an issue. Examples include the creation of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria at the 2000 Okinawa Summit, which has saved millions of lives, or the G20's ability to come together at the 2009 London Summit and prop up the global banking system.

What can we expect from China and Japan

What can we expect of the second and third largest economies in the world as they step into the influential role of host of two of the central mechanisms of global governance? Will Japan seek to build on Germany’s efforts to direct the G7 towards the issue of climate change at last year’s summit? What can the G7 concretely achieve without China as a member and with a US presidential election and UK referendum on EU membership in the offing later in the year? Will hosting a G20 summit for the first time herald a new dawn in China’s global leadership role? What can be done to boost the global economy? Will Sino-Japanese rivalry impact on both summits' chances of success?

Hugo Dobson

Professor Hugo Dobson

Professor Hugo Dobson has been researching the G7 and G20 Global Summits for over a decade often working inside the International Media Centre at these summits. You can access below some of his research on the importance of both mechanisms of global governance to China and Japan.

Once again, Professor Dobson will be heading to the summits in China and Japan with colleagues from the Department of Politics and a team of student analysts selected as part of the Global Leadership Initiative.

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G20 Policy Briefs

While at the G20 Summit in China, members of the Global Leadership Initiative team wrote a number of blog posts and Policy Briefs, analysing the events of the summit. As members of the team, Prof Hugo Dobson and SEAS Students Melissa Pilgrim and Annemie Zimmerman have published Policy Briefs in the Global Policy Journal.

All members of the team have written in the Global Policy Journal and you can view their work here

Slightly Less Fear and Loathing in Sino-Japanese Relations? By Hugo Dobson
“With Japan hosting the forty-second G7 summit in early summer and China hosting the eleventh G20 summit a few months later, 2016 held the promise of being an important year both for Asia’s two superpowers and the region’s overall presence in global summitry….”

Great Expectations: China as a G20 host By Melissa Pilgrim, BA Chinese Studies with French
“Hosting the G20 for the first time gave China a chance to prove itself in a multitude of ways, on a perfectly choreographed and meticulously-watched world stage. Leading up to the start of the summit there was much talk in the global media about issues that had the potential to impede talks between China and other G20 members…”

The South China Sea: can the G20 play a part in conflict resolution? By Annemie Zimmerman, BA East Asian Studies
“As economic development continues to be key to China’s core aims, and a means by which to continue building bridges with its regional and global partners, the G20 summit remains key to the country’s interactions with the world…”

G7 Policy Briefs

While at the G7 Summit in Japan, members of the Global Leadership Initiative team wrote a number of blog posts and Policy Briefs, analysing the events of the summit. As members of the team, Prof Hugo Dobson and MA Contemporary Japan student John Jacobs have published Policy Briefs in the Global Policy Journal.

All members of the team have written in the Global Policy Journal and you can view their work.

Sino-Japanese Rivalry and a Potential Battle for the'Gs' By Prof Hugo Dobson
"Although China is not a member of the G7, its shadow has loomed large over recent summits. The reason for this is not only because of China’s rise but also partly a result of the consistently poor relations it has experienced with the G7’s only Asian member, Japan..."

The DPRK at Ise-Shima 2016 – Strong on Rhetoric but Light on Solutions By John Jacobs, MA Contemporary Japan
"Although The G7 Ise-Shima Summit 2016 has offered comforting rhetorical support for Abe Shinzō’s security and political concerns vis-à-vis the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), but has offered little prospect for resolving them..."