International relations between the world’s superpowers and superpower wannabes are fraught with tension at the moment. Amid arguments over trade, military forces, and even the basic ideological tenets on which civilizations are built, leaders of the world’s largest economies descended on Osaka this weekend for the 2019 G20 meeting. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe hosted this year’s events, which focused on international trade, technology, and worries about a potential confrontation between the U.S. and Iran. President Trump talked trade with China, diplomacy with Russia, and 5G with India.
Trump met privately with President Vladimir Putin of Russia and the two, as usual, seem to have retained a friendly bonhomie. Though neither have been willing to disclose what was discussed behind closed doors, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov later stated that in the “intensive” meeting, which ran longer than scheduled, “they discussed that the level of bilateral, trade and economic relations [between the US and Russia] does not match potential. It was agreed to have a look what kind of factors are actually standing in the way of expanding our trade and economic cooperation horizons.”
The presidents joked during a press conference about “fake news” and Russian election interference. When a reporter asked whether Trump was going to tell Russia not to interfere in the 2020 elections, he replied “Yes, of course I will.” He then instructed a smiling Putin, “Don’t meddle in the election, please.” While these two leaders seem comfortable with each other on a personal level, it hasn’t so far translated to overall positive relations on the international stage; Putin recently said during a Mir TV interview that relations between the two countries were “getting worse and worse,” citing sanctions imposed by the U.S. over the past few years.
Meanwhile, outgoing U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May clashed with the Russian president over the questionable 2018 Salisbury Novichok poisonings. After a recent interview with the Financial Times, in which Putin called Western liberalism “obsolete” and referred to the Salisbury incidents as mere “fuss about spies,” he shared a frosty meeting with May. She claimed the British intelligence services have irrefutable evidence that Russian was behind the attacks, which she called a “despicable act,” adding that “Russia can go down a different path if it desists from this sort of activity.”
Putin later took a conciliatory tone, saying at a news conference that “We will do whatever is possible to change the situation to the better. I think we have mutual understanding that we have to get out of the situation that was created until today [with the U.S.] as well as with our partners from the United Kingdom.”
Trump also met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss trade and the rollout of 5G technology. According to The Times of India, Modi went into the meeting with an agenda to discuss “Iran, bilateral issues including trade, 5G and defence.”
Just two days before the meeting, Trump tweeted that, “I look forward to speaking with Prime Minister Modi about the fact that India, for years having put very high Tariffs against the United States, just recently increased the Tariffs even further. This is unacceptable and the Tariffs must be withdrawn!”
Despite this unfriendly opening gambit, the meeting turns out to have been “productive” and businesslike. The two leaders “affirmed that, as responsible democracies, a close partnership between the United States and India is central to global peace and stability.” Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said that Modi suggested the two nations cooperate to use “India’s users/market, India’s strengths in technology and design, together with Silicon Valley’s work in 5G technology,” an idea Trump “welcomed.”
Modi also expressed concern about growing tensions between the U.S. and Iran, telling Trump that India wants “peace and stability” in the Middle East. He was not the only one to mention the issue, with Chinese Premier Xi Jinping also urging peace in the region. Modi, Putin, and Xi held a trilateral meeting in which they urged against economic protectionism, “illegal and unilateral sanctions” and “long-arm jurisdiction,” in what seemed to be a reference to unwelcome U.S. global dominance in military and economic affairs.
After verbal sparring about the Huawei ban by U.S. security forces, and the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China, Trump and Xi held their much-anticipated meeting on the second day of the event. Trump came out extremely positive about the “very, very good” encounter, saying it had gone “probably even better than expected.” The two countries have resolved to resume trade negotiations, and the U.S. has agreed not to impose any new tariffs on Chinese exports. President Trump told reporters he would allow U.S. firms to sell products to Huawei – currently listed as a national security threat – as a “personal favor” to Xi.
Trump said regarding trade talks:
“I actually think we were very close … something happened where it slipped a little bit and now we’re getting a little bit closer, but it would be historic if we could do a fair trade deal. We’re totally open to it and I know you’re [China] totally open to it. I think we can go on to do something that would be truly be monumental and great for both countries and that’s what I look forward to doing.”
“China and the United States both benefit from cooperation and lose in a confrontation. Cooperation and dialogue are better than friction and confrontation,” said Xi.
Other Encounters of Note
Other noteworthy moments include a meeting with Brazilian President and Trump fan Jair Bolsonaro, during which each man had extremely positive things to say about the other. Trump also called Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “a good purchaser of American products,” although he told reporters that he “strongly” “mentioned” the murder of Turkish reporter Jamal Khashoggi, of which Saudi Arabia has been accused. Meeting with Turkey’s own President Erdogan, Trump but said he’s open to suspending sanctions that he had been considering after Turkey made military purchases from Russia, and “looking at different solutions.” Trump also praised German-American trade and called Chancellor Angela Merkel a “fantastic lady” in contrast to their previously icy relationship, and criticized Japan for not investing enough in the U.S. – something Abe denied, pointing out five new investments in one month.
The overall tone of this year’s G20 was one that encouraged further global economic integration, while discouraging unilateral action, whether that be towards war, or anything else that could affect the international community – in other words, globalism was front and center.
After the summit, President Trump headed to South Korea to meet with President Moon Jae-In, and he has even tweeted an invitation to North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-Un to join him for a quick handshake at the border!
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