The world’s 20 biggest economic powers are about to gather in Hamburg for a two-day summit pondering whether they should still look to the US for global leadership.
The summit, ostensibly about financial stability, could mark the moment of the US’s formal abdication as the world’s pre-eminent power. The task of leadership will be seen to be passed not to a single successor, a reluctant China is not ready, but to a new unstable quartet of Donald Trump, Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, and Angela Merkel.
This contest for world leadership could not come at a worse time. Too many lights are flashing red on the global dashboard: climate change, North Korea, world trade, Ukraine, mass migration and discord in the Gulf. Yet the quartet comes to the summit, starting on Thursday night, with very different aims.
Merkel, the serene host, had planned to use it to lift the world’s gaze to the long-term challenge posed by migration from an increasingly populated and youthful Africa but instead finds herself firefighting.
Merkel is not keen on being leader of the liberal west, describing such labels as “grotesque” and choosing to be seen in the constant company of the French president, Emmanuel Macron, to dilute the impression of German dominance of Europe.
Trump in turn continues to attack the German trade surplus, ridicule climate change, mull curbs on German steel imports and insist global politics is a Darwinian battle in which each leader must think first and only of their national interest.
Trump will be unconcerned if he is outnumbered since it will only deepen his narrative of America as a victim, a story that works with his political base. His focus will be on his meeting with Vladimir Putin on Friday.