As leaders from around the world converge on Seoul for the G-20 this week, it remains uncertain whether two central players, China and the US, are coming for a summit of cooperation or confrontation.
On the one hand, their mutual need for "shared growth beyond crisis" could not be more urgent—perhaps most especially for the American president, reeling from the recent midterm "shellacking" and facing unemployment just under 10 percent at home. The world's second largest economy, meanwhile, continues to run risks of overheating—from inflation to asset price bubbles. Diplomatically, Beijing has antagonized many neighbors and friends in the Asia Pacific of late over issues ranging from rare earth exports and maritime disputes, and could benefit from shifting to a more "harmonious" tack on the economic side.
However, the US and China continue to spar over currency devaluation, monetary policy and trade imbalance disputes. We shall see by the end of the week whether the Seoul G-20 brings real progress, or, like the tragi-comedy of Copenhagen climate negotiations, only serves to highlight the ruptures without closing any gaps.
John Delury is Senior Fellow at Asia Society's Center on US-China Relations, and is based in Seoul.