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G-20 leaders face a divided global economy

A painting dedicated to the G-20 economic summit was displayed in a St. Petersburg, Russia, gallery Wednesday.Elena Ignatyeva /Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Something unfamiliar will be in the background as world leaders hold a summit in Russia starting Thursday: economic growth throughout the developed world.

And something will be missing: worry about a renewed financial crisis.

Leaders from 20 of the largest economies are more confident about their banking systems than at any other time since they began meeting five years ago. What’s more, the economies of the United States, Europe, and Japan are finally growing simultaneously.

Yet fears are rising about emerging nations, which have helped drive the global economy for years: Growth is slowing, investor money is leaving, and borrowing costs are rising, in part because of higher interest rates in the United States.


The result is a more divided world than the leaders faced at previous summits of the Group of 20 major economies — a disparity that could make any major breakthroughs at the summit elusive.

Issues beyond economic ones will surely seize part of the agenda. The threat of a US-led military strike against Syria, in response to what the Obama administration calls a deadly chemical weapons attack, is certain to arise. Russian President Vladimir Putin, an ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad and the host of the G-20 summit, has asked President Obama to reconsider any military action.

Some countries may also take the opportunity to complain about spying by the National Security Administration.

Europe’s financial crisis, and fears that the euro currency alliance might unravel, had brought focus to previous summits.

The leaders first met in 2008 as the US financial crisis was raging and infecting economies around the world. The United States, Europe, and Japan are now economically sturdier.

After their first meetings, for example, the G-20 leaders embraced policies to try to rejuvenate the global economy. Last year, they agreed to boost the International Monetary Fund’s financial resources, which had been depleted by Europe’s crisis.


‘‘The G-20 did pretty well in crisis-response mode,’’ said Fred Bergsten, director emeritus at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. ‘‘The question now is whether the G-20 can transfer from being purely a crisis-response mechanism to a crisis-prevention mechanism . . . On that, the record is not yet clear.’’

The problems engulfing emerging countries like India, Indonesia, and Turkey illustrate a key challenge. The problems stem in part from expectations that the Federal Reserve will soon slow its monthly bond purchases. The bond purchases have been intended to keep US borrowing rates ultralow to stimulate growth.

Long-term US rates have been rising in anticipation that the Fed will slow its bond buying. Those higher rates have, in turn, led investors to pull money from developing countries and invest it in US assets. India’s currency, the rupee, Indonesia’s rupiah, and Brazil’s real, among others, have plunged in response. The rupee sank to a record low against the dollar last week.

Yet the advanced economies aren’t likely to alter their rate policies in response to the turmoil in emerging economies. Those policies have been vital to the recoveries in the United States, Europe, and Japan.

At the same time, the leaders will likely address the developing countries’ concerns in their statement when the summit ends. Zhu Guangyao, a Chinese deputy finance minister, says the United States ‘‘must consider the spillover effect’’ of scaling back its bond buying.

China isn’t as vulnerable to the Fed’s policies as other developing countries. It limits its currency’s ability to fluctuate. And it’s sealed off its financial system from global capital flows.


World Bank president Jim Yong Kim said this week that he’s concerned about the Fed’s impact on emerging economies. Kim noted, though, that some of those economies must address their own underlying weaknesses.

In an interview with The Associated Press, he pointed, for example, to India.

‘‘India is famous for its bureaucracy and the difficulty of actually doing business,’’ Kim said.