▶ High-level en­coun­ters with the US leader are the key to re­solv­ing ten­sions be­tween global play­ers, writes Damien McEl­roy

The National - News - - NEWS -

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump spent the week lead­ing up to the G20 sum­mit in Ar­gentina play­ing golf and send­ing anger-tinged tweets. Rus­sian leader Vladimir Putin or­ches­trated a show­down with Ukraine by as­sert­ing Rus­sian con­trol of the ship­ping lanes around Crimea, seiz­ing three ves­sels and hold­ing cap­tive more than 20 Ukrainian sailors.

The other lead­ers of the lead­ing economies ar­riv­ing in Buenos Aires for the two­day sum­mit could hardly be de­scribed in­di­vid­u­ally as be­ing in good cheer.

Meet­ings in­volv­ing Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man and Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron will be closely watched. The first three-way meet­ing be­tween the US, In­dia and Ja­pan at the sum­mit could take an emerg­ing axis in the Asia-Pa­cific a step closer. But with a lack of promis­ing omens, diplo­mats are ques­tion­ing if Pres­i­dent Trump wants to be there at all.

“It would not be sur­pris­ing if he left as quickly as he can,” said one western of­fi­cial. The White House told many coun­tries point-blank not to ex­pect bi­lat­eral meet­ing with the US leader at the risk of him run­ning out of pa­tience, as he did at the G7 in France this year.

The state of US re­la­tions with China and Rus­sia de­mands face-to-face talks. The Trump-Putin con­fab was con­firmed late on Wed­nes­day. It may an­swer the ques­tion what does Mr Putin want af­ter ini­ti­at­ing a high-pro­file clash – Ukraine de­clared mar­tial law in re­sponse – on the eve of his trip.

Dmitri Trenin, di­rec­tor of the Carnegie-Moscow Cen­tre think tank, said Mr Putin ex­pects, as he de­mands of all his US coun­ter­parts, par­ity of treat­ment as a start­ing point. Even so, Moscow’s early hopes of forg­ing tight ties with Mr Trump are now largely dashed.

“Putin and Trump speak the same lan­guage of na­tional in­ter­est and are fully com­fort­able with trans­ac­tional re­la­tions. Both men es­chew pol­i­tics based on ide­ol­ogy and mo­ral val­ues,” Mr Trenin said. “Trump is ac­tively dis­rupt­ing the post-Cold War, US-led lib­eral global or­der, which Putin also ve­he­mently re­jects.

“Over the past two years, Moscow has been dis­ap­pointed by Trump’s abil­ity, and even will­ing­ness, to im­prove re­la­tions with Rus­sia. To­day, the Krem­lin is any­thing but a Trump fan club. They see the US pres­i­dent as a self-cen­tred per­son, es­sen­tially guided by in­stincts, who prides him­self on mak­ing deals.”

With the price of oil touch­ing lows of $50 a bar­rel, Prince Mo­hammed, who was one of the first to ar­rive, has an op­por­tu­nity to emerge from the shadow of the Ja­mal Khashoggi mur­der. The trip also comes amid in­ten­si­fy­ing diplo­macy around the Ye­men con­flict. The crown prince is ex­pected not only to hold im­por­tant talks with Mr Putin but also with Ar­gentina’s Pres­i­dent Mauricio Macri, the host, as well as Theresa May, the British prime min­is­ter, Turkey’s Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan and Asian lead­ers. Pres­i­dent Trump has sig­nalled he is “open” to a get-to­gether.

The head-to-head that should dom­i­nate global at­ten­tion is the meet­ing with Pres­i­dent Xi. In the grip of a trade war, Mr Trump used an in­ter­view with The Wall Street Jour­nal on Mon­day to threaten to raise tar­iffs on $200 bil­lion-worth of goods to 25 per cent. Later in the week he called on his of­fi­cials to draw up plans to bring in tar­iffs on ve­hi­cles.

Mr Trump set out to woo Mr Xi as soon as he was elected. The pres­i­dent still con­spic­u­ously refers to the Chi­nese leader as his friend. Lawrence Kud­low, the White House eco­nomic ad­viser, has said there is a “good pos­si­bil­ity” of an un­der­stand­ing be­ing struck.

For Euro­pean and other lead­ers con­cerned with global eco­nomic sta­bil­ity, a break­through on this front would be the most im­por­tant gain from the long trip to Ar­gentina.

Liu He, the Chi­nese point­man on trade, sig­nalled that Bei­jing’s lead­ers were trav­el­ling to se­cure a high-level deal. “No one ever emerged as a win­ner from a trade war,” he said in Ham­burg. “Our ap­proach, there­fore, is to seek a ne­go­ti­ated so­lu­tion.”

Ex­perts say the two sides re­main far apart, point­ing to the ten­sions be­tween the two del­e­ga­tions at the Asean sum­mit in Sin­ga­pore this month.

“The fail­ure of lead­ers to come to terms as a re­sult of US-China trade ten­sions sug­gests fur­ther frag­men­ta­tion and heated com­pe­ti­tion in the re­gion. It also au­gurs poorly for the G20 sum­mit in Ar­gentina this com­ing week­end, as well as for the meet­ing that pres­i­dents Trump and Xi are sched­uled to hold on the side­lines of that sum­mit to work out their dif­fer­ences on trade,” said Matthew Good­man of the Cen­tre for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies.

Adam Triggs, a re­searcher who has pub­lished an anal­y­sis of in­ter­na­tional meet­ings for the Brook­ings In­sti­tute, re­jects sug­ges­tions that the po­larised in­ter­na­tional cli­mate means the gath­er­ing is lit­tle more than a “point­less talk­fest”.

He pointed to suc­ces­sive ini­tia­tives at G20 sum­mits over the past decade that re­sulted in global pol­icy agree­ment.

“The G20 has also pre­vented na­tions em­brac­ing ‘beg­gar-thy-neigh­bour’ poli­cies that im­prove the coun­try’s rel­a­tive eco­nomic po­si­tion by harm­ing oth­ers. It has pres­sured mem­bers not to de­value their cur­ren­cies in pur­suit of com­pet­i­tive trade ad­van­tage,” he wrote.

“It has helped coun­tries to re­sist re­sort­ing to trade pro­tec­tion­ism. It has de­fused ten­sions around con­tro­ver­sial poli­cies such as quan­ti­ta­tive eas­ing, and im­proved the com­mu­ni­ca­tion of cen­tral banks on fu­ture pol­icy changes.”

Putin and Trump speak the same lan­guage of na­tional in­ter­est and are fully com­fort­able with trans­ac­tional re­la­tions DMITRI TRENIN An­a­lyst, Carnegie-Moscow Cen­tre


Canada’s Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau and his wife So­phie Gre­goire ar­rive at Min­istro Pis­tarini air­port in Buenos Aires

Reuters; AFP

Saudi Ara­bia’s Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man ar­rives in Buenos Aires, Ar­gentina, for the G20 Sum­mit; South Korea’s Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in and his wife Kim Jung­sook, be­low

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