Re-visiting the G20 summit
The annual G20 summit needs to be revisited to analyze the several dimensions where convergence was sought by the participants on important issues -- climate change, Iran, protectionism, global trade, security, and the environment.
The very first day marked President Trump’s conversation with President Putin about possible future Russian interference during the next US presidential election in 2020.
Putin apparently did not react to Trump’s light-hearted reprimand but took the opportunity of his being in Osaka to give an interesting interview wherein he underlined his thoughts on both global and domestic politics.
He indicated, to the surprise of the participating nations, that liberalism was “obsolete,” and praised the rise of populism both in the Europe and US. He also described Trump as a “talented person” who knew how to relate to voters. The connotations were evident.
There was also another aspect that was followed most closely by the international community -- the efforts that were undertaken by Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping to resolve their bitter trade dispute.
The world held its breath and was eventually happy to know that both countries after discussion between the two leaders in Osaka had agreed to revive trade and tariff discussions along with all its denotations.
The US president remarked that – “We’re right back on track. We’ll see what happens.” There was, however, an important symbolic reference from President Xi about his meeting with Trump.
Xi recalled the 1970s-era ping-pong diplomacy between the two countries, using the reference to illustrate how a “small ball played a big role” in establishing diplomatic ties between Beijing and Washington.
He added in that context: “One basic fact remains unchanged. China and the United States both benefit from cooperation and lose in a confrontation.”
Many are saying that the small ball in question might have acquired greater significance through President Xi’s visit to North Korea just before the G20 summit. This underlined China’s potential role in helping the US solving this problem.
This factor was later translated into President Trump’s meeting with the North Korean leader, his crossing the DMZ, line and having a brief discussion with the DPRK leadership.
Trump had earlier threatened additional trade sanctions on China, but after the meeting in Osaka, it was confirmed that the US would not be adding tariffs on $300 billion worth of Chinese imports.
He has also said that the US would continue to negotiate with Beijing “for the time being.”
At a subsequent press conference, Trump also declared that US technology companies could again sell to China’s Huawei -- effectively reversing the ban imposed by the US commerce department.
It is still not completely clear whether what Trump has announced is a complete reversal. However, if it is, it would be a significant concession by the US on a company that Washington has said is a threat to national security.
Nevertheless, the resumption of talks and “pressing the pause button on more tariffs” will be seen in the short term as positive for markets and American businesses.
Many sectors within the US business community had in recent weeks pointed out that the cost of further tariffs for US consumers would have ended up in the payment of nearly $12bn more in the form of higher prices.
This has been welcomed by Chinese businesses also. They have been suffering because of the trade war. It has had an impact on investment plans, business confidence, and exports in the world’s second-largest economy.
One must not forget that Washington still wants Beijing to fundamentally change the way China’s economy functions by getting rid of subsidies to state-owned companies and opening up its domestic market.
Viewed from this angle, the truce signals a pause in hostilities between the world’s largest economies, rather than a resolution of the year-long dispute which has caused market turbulence and affected global growth. A UN report pointed out that nearly 300 million tons of plastic waste is produced every year, and around 8 million tons ends up in our oceans, killing marine life, and choking up our oceans with toxic chemicals.
Former British PM May and French President Macron played an important role in drawing the attention of the G20 participants in joining together in a meaningful manner while overcoming the challenges resulting from climate variability and also in the tackling of plastic waste. Theresa May called on the G20 countries to set targets for net-zero greenhouse gas.
However, 19 of the 20 leaders signed up to the statement, which committed them to the “irreversibility” of the 2015 Paris Agreement and pledged the full implementation of its targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In this context, Japan urged nations to firmly commit that they would ban single use plastic and help to reduce plastic waste to zero in the oceans. As expected, there was some resistance in this regard from the US, over concerns of what this could do to its petrochemicals and plastics industries.
During the G20 summit, Theresa May drew the attention of all countries towards the need to fight together against the spread of malaria and tuberculosis.
This time around, the G20 summit appears to have correctly addressed the view that unity and constructive inter-active engagement by working together is better than divisive policies.
Muhammad Zamir, a former ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]