Chinese President Xi Jinping addresses the opening ceremony of the Group of 20 (G20) summit in Hangzhou, capital of east China's Zhejiang Province, Sept. 4, 2016. (Xinhua/Li Tao)
HANGZHOU, Sept. 4 (Xinhua) -- Leaders of the G20 economies took a break on Sunday from their tight schedules and set sail into the night waters of the West Lake in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou.
The image of Chinese President Xi Jinping standing among leaders from emerging markets and developed countries sends a strong signal: that we are in the same boat, with China charting the course ahead this time.
Hours earlier, Xi, the helmsman of the world's second largest economy, had referred to boats metaphorically to stress the need of joint efforts when addressing leaders of the world's leading economies who have gathered for their annual meeting.
"To brave through the rough waters of world economy and start a new journey for future growth, it's good to know that we are in the same boat," he said in the opening address of the G20 summit.
"Let's make Hangzhou a new departure point and steer the giant ship of global economy on a new voyage from the shore of the Qiantang River to the vast ocean," the Chinese president said.
For the world's most populous nation, the Hangzhou summit on Sunday and Monday comes as an important opportunity to show the world that China has what it takes to help navigate world economic recovery.
It is the first time that Xi has chaired a G20 summit. Many hope the heavyweight get-together could set a course for global growth.
Speaking on Sunday afternoon minutes after welcoming the G20 leaders with handshakes, the president said he hoped the summit would prescribe a cure that would take the global economy onto a healthy growth trajectory.
"The therapy will take an integrative approach to address both the symptoms and root causes, and propel the world economy onto a path of robust, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth," he said.
Called a "paradise on Earth" by 13th-century traveller Marco Polo, Hangzhou is the capital of Zhejiang, one of China's most successful provinces of which Xi was once Communist Party chief. The city's economy grew by 10.8 percent in the first half of this year, faster than most of the big cities in China.
The choice of Hangzhou as the host city of the summit well captures the role China now seeks on global stage.
As the world's most populous nation, the second biggest economy, and above all a powerful driver of global growth, China has every reason to lead.
But China beyond Hangzhou faces big challenges. GDP expanded 6.7 percent in the second quarter this year, the lowest rate since the global financial crisis in early 2009.
Xi, nevertheless, struck a rather optimistic tone on Saturday.
China has the confidence and ability to maintain medium-high growth as the country continues to deepen reform, pursues an innovation-driven development strategy, and opens up to the outside world, he told business leaders on the eve of the G20 summit.
The global circumstances in which the G20 leaders are meeting are also far from promising, but many of the issues with which the G20 is grappling are not so different from those of previous summits.
So far, Xi's efforts to persuade his peers to transform the familiar rhetoric into reality seem to have paid off.
With the theme of "Toward an Innovative, Invigorated, Interconnected and Inclusive World Economy," the summit has put the issue of development at the front and center of the global macro policy framework for the first time.
It is also the first time that the G20 has an action plan for implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and will discuss the industrialization of Africa and the least developed countries.
Chairing the G20 also offers China a unique opportunity to participate in the top-level design of global economic governance.
One of the goals of China's G20 presidency is to push the group to transform from a crisis response mechanism focused on short-term policies to one of long-term governance that shapes medium- to long-term policies.
With two-thirds of the world's population, G20 contributes about 90 percent of the world's total gross domestic product and 80 percent of the world's trade volume. Now, the G20 has become the premium forum of global economic cooperation.
China's increasing involvement in the G20, and in global governance in general, evolved gradually.
Eight years ago when the first G20 summit was held in Washington amid a major global financial crisis, global governance was anything but a familiar term to most Chinese. Chinese leaders back then repeatedly said China's biggest contribution to the world would be getting its own house in order.
In fact, global governance only entered the official Chinese political parlance in the wake of the 2008 crisis, and it was Xi who, years later, accredited the term its due prominence.
Attending a BRICS summit in South Africa in March 2013, about two weeks after assuming the presidency, Xi spoke of the need for emerging economies to take part in global governance, to uphold international fairness and justice and safeguard world peace and stability.
"No matter how the reform of the global governance system may unfold, we should always take an active and constructive part in the process," Xi said.
In the words of Wang Wen, executive dean of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies under Renmin University of China, "Xi has played a very important part in his personal capacity in China's participation in global governance."
Emphasis on global governance is now a hallmark of China's diplomacy, and features prominently when Xi addresses domestic audiences.
In early July, in a speech marking the Communist Party of China's 95th anniversary, Xi said that China should actively participate in building global governance and strive to contribute Chinese wisdom.
China's embrace of the G20 reflects a rising economic power's desire to steer and reshape the global agenda.
"With China's rise, it is only logical that the country plays a bigger role on the global stage," said Xu Guangjian, deputy director of the School of Public Administration and Policy at Renmin University.
"This development is in line with China's deepening affirmation of globalization, and its realization that no country could stand unaffected in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis," Xu said.
The remarks were echoed by Douglas Paal, vice president for studies at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
"China has a big and growing interest in maintaining and strengthening the international economic and trading system," Paal said.
In the meantime, China is also holding high the banner of the developing world.
Xi has long called for increasing the presence of developing countries and emerging-market economies and offering them a bigger say in international systems, and ensuring the equality of different countries in global economic cooperation in terms of rights, opportunities and rules. That call was renewed at the Hangzhou summit, attended by a record number of developing countries.
For emerging markets, the G20 offers a unique chance to sit at the table as equal partners with all the major powers in the world in talking about the global economy and having their voices heard.
While attending a BRICS leaders' meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit on Sunday morning, Xi said that BRICS members should enhance coordination to make emerging-market economies and developing countries play a bigger role in international affairs.
BRICS nations are leaders among emerging-market economies and developing countries, and also important members of the G20, Xi said, noting that they should reinforce coordination to build, maintain and develop the BRICS and G20 platforms.
It would seem that the West Lake boat trip with Xi being flanked by leaders of both developed countries and emerging markets could signal an increasingly important role China seeks on the world stage: a bridge between the developed and developing nations.