Commentary Magazine



What happens when 43 nations gather in Beijing?  We need to know because China, as the story goes, will be the dominant power this century. Yesterday, the two-day summit of the Asia-Europe Meeting ended in the Chinese capital with calls for greater regulation of the world’s financial system.  ”We must use every means to prevent the financial crisis impacting growth of the real economy,” China’s premier, Wen Jiabao, declared at the end of the gathering.  Said Japan’s new prime minister, Taro Aso, “What we have achieved through this meeting and earlier meetings is, we all realize the severity of the problem and are determined to tackle it.”

And this is an accomplishment?  That was just about the only progress at the meeting. Behind the scenes, the Chinese basically made it clear that Europe–and the United States–should not look to Beijing for help.  “There is no reason for Asian countries to foot the bill for America’s and Europe’s mistakes,” said Shi Yinhong, a leading Chinese academic.  “Anyone can talk to anyone they want, but the countries which caused their own mess, especially the U.S., should play a leading role in bailing themselves out.”  Or as Premier Wen more politely said, countries in trouble should “firmly and bravely” face their situations.

These statements ignore the fact that the Chinese were just as responsible for the current global financial crisis as anyone else.  If we learned anything at the Asia-Europe Meeting, however, it is that China’s leaders are more interested in deflecting blame than finding solutions.

So what happens when 43 nations gather in Beijing?  Nothing.  If troubled economies want help, they will have to wait until November 15, when the G-20 meets in Washington.   Am I being too harsh on the 27 European Union members and 16 Asian countries that just met in the Chinese capital?  Perhaps.  After all, they did discuss climate change.  And the Asian nations renewed a pledge to form an $80 billion currency reserve fund by the middle of next year.

“It’s very simple: We swim together, or we sink together,” said European Union Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, the day before the summit began.  If coordinated action is the answer–as analysts keep on insisting–then the message from Beijing is that we’re all sinking.