Sunday, July 09,
2017 11.43 AM / By Wim Romeijn / CFI.co
Expertly ducking a potentially
traumatic Trump (hand)shake by shooting past the US president to his wife
Melania, Polish first lady Agata Kornhauser-Duda perhaps unwittingly set the
tone for the annual G20 summit – showing Mr Trump his place in the new world
order he helped, also perhaps unwittingly, usher in.
Not expecting a particularly warm
welcome in Hamburg, the US president first visited friendly Poland to deliver a
rousing speech, in front of a rent-a-crowd audience bussed in for the occasion,
in which he managed to sing the praises of Western values without once
mentioning democracy or the rule of law. All the same, the president did voice
support for NATO Article 5 which commits member states to mutual defence. It
was a welcome first and meant to undo the harm caused when during an earlier
visit to Europe the US president explicitly failed to endorse the key article.
After assuring that the West will
never be “broken”, Mr Trump on Friday met Russian president Vladimir Putin in
an attempt to iron out differences over Syria, Ukraine, and North Korea. Not
very helpful given the circumstances, the US president invited Russia to join
“the community of responsible nations”, implying that the country is at present
not quite living up to global expectations.
Usually an unremarkable and rather
ineffectual exercise in global politics, this year’s G20 summit deals with a
world in flux – no longer merely a cliché – with fireworks on the agenda.
Germany, playing host to the world’s
most powerful, has now reluctantly assumed moral leadership with Chancellor
Merkel becoming the undisputed – and unlikely – leader of the free world. The
position fell to her by default as more natural candidates from the Anglophone
world seem to have traded political reason for bombast.
The five permanent members of the UN
Security Council – the world’s movers and shakers – all seek different outcomes
from the Hamburg summit. Not one of them is likely to leave the two-day event
feeling satisfied or vindicated.
President Trump’s wish list is
refreshingly short: he needs help from China in keeping North Korea from going
ballistic, and must establish a rapport of sorts with Mr Putin while
maintaining a stand-offish attitude in order not to seem grateful for any
covert assistance the Russian may have rendered during last year’s election
campaign. In Hamburg, President Trump has only two dependable friends: Turkey’s
Recep Erdoğan and Brazil’s Michel Temer – not exactly models of rectitude.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, who
brought two panda bears along, has just a single mission in Hamburg: evade the
pesky Americans and keep their tiresome nagging about North Korea to a minimum.
If lucky, President Jinping may convince Vladimir Putin to jointly tackle the
recalcitrant Kim Jong-Un. Shunting the US out of a diplomatic solution for the
North Korea issue would be a coup of the first magnitude and offer further proof
to the suspicion/fear that the Americans are retreating from the world stage.
For Vladimir Putin the Hamburg
summit offers a welcome photo-op. Pulling a serious and determined face whilst
conferring with the US president during their one-on-one, allows the Russian
president to reaffirm his status as one of the world’s great leaders. There is
unlikely to be any progress on either Ukraine or Syria.
France’s president Emmanuel Macron –
fresh, dynamic, chomping at the bit, and perhaps a tad naïve – went to Hamburg
armed with a history book explaining the intricacies of the Concert of Europe
and, more specifically, Russia’s central role in that precarious 19th century
balance of alliances. Ignoring the Crimean War of 1853, a deplorable faux pas
if anything, France wants to help bring Russia back into the fold (as spelled
out by President Trump in Poland) by re-establishing the Elysée Palace as the
go-between that pulls Russia westwards into the European orbit. In his
endeavour to regain diplomatic primacy for his country, President Macron enjoys
the blessing of Chancellor Merkel who is only too glad to pass the Moscow
Dossier to Paris.
Sadly last and least, British Prime
Minister Theresa May’s only job in Hamburg is to convince fellow G20 leaders
that she, and her government, are not (yet) a spent force. Since it became
abundantly clear that the British government holds no sway over the US
administration, and is wholly unable to temper its America First urges, Mrs May
struggles to maintain her country’s international posture. Descending from the
aeroplane that brought her to Hamburg, Mrs May promptly threw away her only ace
card by declaring that she would not discuss climate change during her private
meeting with President Trump – thus giving up on the notion that the UK’s
“special relationship” with the United States is able to produce any tangible
Instead, Prime Minister May opted to
call for a crackdown on terrorist financing. The choice was deemed rather
unfortunate as the Home Office was found to suppress a report on the funding of
Islamist extremists in the UK by friendly countries. A Home Office spokesperson
admitted that the report’s contents are “very sensitive” and will not be
Then again, the G20 is not
necessarily the venue of choice to change the world for the better. Likened to
a diplomatic jamboree, the annual get together was set up in 2008 to encourage
global cooperation in the face of financial instability. The G20’s original
remit was to avoid future financial crises from happening through concerted
harmonised responses and policies.
However, as is often the case with
global summits, the G20 is often distracted – if not hijacked – by late
breaking events. As if on cue, North Korea blasted itself to the top of the
global agenda, commanding the attention of not just the United States, but
China and Russia as well.
This is where German leadership is
called for – and comes in. Chancellor Merkel has repeatedly stated that she
will insist on speaking about climate change and development issues, such as
the need to address the plight of African nations in order to stem the flow of
refugees heading for Europe. As global defender of liberal values, Mrs Merkel
finds herself surrounded by swaggering populists as Trump, Putin, and Erdoğan.
Not easily intimidated, on the eve of the summit Chancellor Merkel took a first
swipe at President Trump, declaring that his administration apparently sees
free trade and globalisation as a scenario that produces winners and losers as
opposed to the win-win proposition it is meant to be.
Armed with the final draft of an
ambitious EU-Japan free trade deal, potentially one of the largest of its kind,
Mrs Merkel aims to show that liberalism is far from dead. She is particularly
well-equipped to deal with the macho strongmen in Hamburg having outmanoeuvred
all to reach – and keep – her present position as the leader of the world’s
strongest economy. Of the world leaders gathered in Hamburg, the German
Chancellor is the only one able to fill the hole where the US used to sit.
However, she made a point of sitting down, so to say, with French president
Macron in order to underline that Germany adheres to multilateralism and has no
ambition whatsoever to rule alone.
Admonishing all present to play
nice, the German chancellor can easily take the high road, insisting that
participants adhere to the meeting’s original agenda Shaping an Interconnected
World, including topics such as tackling tax avoidance and evasion, evaluating
the opportunities offered by climate action and the digital revolution, and
sharing the responsibility for refugees and migrants by partnering with Africa
for investment, growth, and jobs.
What the heavyweight participants in
Hamburg must now decide is if they are to be partners or adversaries.
Source: Capital Finance
International - CFI.co <http://cfi.co>