TRUMP MUST OVERCOME FRICTION AT G20 SUMMIT
▶ High-level encounters with the US leader are the key to resolving tensions between global players, writes Damien McElroy
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
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