Rising Powers at the 12th G-20 Summit: Staying the Course?
America’s U-Turn on climate change and Donald Trump’s disregard for globalization and multilateralism loomed ominously for rising powers ahead of the 12th G-20 summit at Hamburg, Germany on July 7-8. Themed “Shaping an Interconnected World,” the lack of any real political cohesion among rising powers also put a question mark on the summit, despite a BRICS confab on the sidelines. Do rising powers view the Hamburg summit as a success or just perfunctory? How was the performance of their own leadership rated?
The final declaration of the summit spotlighted the isolation of the United States on climate change and stated, “We take note of the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from the Paris Agreement,” and added, “Leaders of the other G20 members state that the Paris Agreement is irreversible.” In a nod to developing countries, it says, “We reaffirm our strong commitment to the Paris Agreement, moving swiftly towards its full implementation in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances…”
- The official Chinese press agency, Xinhua was all accolades for China’s contribution at Hamburg. It portrayed state opinion that “the summit carried forward the principles rooted in last year’s summit in Hangzhou, China, which highlighted innovation, vitality, interconnectivity and inclusiveness.” It noted that during the summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a speech calling on all parties to stay committed to building an open global economy, foster new points of growth, work together for more inclusive growth, and continue improving global economic governance.
- Wang Weidong, China’s commercial counselor in Germany maintained that “(The summit) on the one hand maintains the G20 as an important platform for global economic governance to ensure that the G20 continues to play an active role. On the other hand, it shows the unity of the G20 in the face of crisis and difficulties and sends a positive message.” According to him, bilateral meetings held on the sidelines further emphasized the need for free trade and globalization and emphasized that China is committed to sustaining its own growth to remain a “stabilizer” and “ballast stone” of the world economy.
- State-directed China Daily carried an opinion piece by Fraser Cameron, the director of the EU-Asia Centre in Brussels who made the case that this year’s G20 summit had to address a wide range of difficult topics, such as free trade, the future of the Paris climate change agreement and multilateral institutions in the face of broad anti-globalization. He noted that “German chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe would have to do more for its own security given Trump’s ambivalence on NATO, rejection of the Paris climate change agreement and “America First” trade policy.” While other European nations (with the exception of British Prime Minister Theresa May) supported Chancellor Merkel, most other G20 countries sought out their own bilateral trade deals with the US.
- An op-ed in the nationalist Global Times by Wang Huiyao, president of the Center for China and Globalization sees G20 as more evidence of China’s growing importance. He stressed that while the overall theme of the G20 summit was unity and inclusiveness, the delicate diplomatic waltz didn’t hide the stormy discord between world leaders. As he puts it, “Europe needs close engagement with China on the global management of climate change and the preservation of an open trading system, while the US needs China to deal with North Korea. This multi-polar relationship puts China at the very heart of the international system, with an essential role in framing the international agenda while assuming new responsibilities.” He gives high marks to his country and concludes that “China has successfully safeguarded globalization and showed its strong power to shepherd the world economy in the right direction while supporting globalization…”
- The Pioneer, a pro-ruling party newspaper, penned an editorial arguing that “A good part of the credit for the G20 leaders’ statement against terrorism must go to Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” pointing to his 11-point Action Plan to fight terrorism submitted at Hamburg which placed militant outfits such as the Laskhar-e-Tayyeba (LeT), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), the Islamic State (IS) and the Boko Haram on an equal footing. Applauding the statement issued by leaders of the summit that “There should be no safe haven for terrorist financing anywhere in the world,” the editorial urged more “action.”
- Even the left leaning Hindu, like a number of other outlets, was upbeat about India’s improving status at the G-20, particularly with the special acknowledgement that India got in the Hamburg Action Plan for the steps the country has taken in the financial sector. The Hindu noted that the Modi government has stated its intent to get India into the ranks of the top 50 countries in terms of ease of doing business.
- An editorial in the liberal Hindustan Times decried the US stand on the Paris climate deal, arguing that it was “unbecoming of its superpower status.” It pointed out that it was the first time the G20 failed to have a full consensus on their joint declaration. It went on to conclude that, “The future of multilateralism itself is now unclear. Talk of a German-Chinese axis or some other combination of middle powers taking a global leadership role proved overblown.”
- The Indian media gave a good deal of attention to Donald Trump’s apparently impromptu “interaction” with Narendra Modi on the one hand, and on the other hand, whether there was or was not a meeting between Modi and Xi Jinping on the sidelines given the India-China continuing border standoff in the Himalayas. The Indian and Chinese media appeared to differ on how to describe the Modi-Xi encounter, with the latter heavily downplaying it. As for the Modi-Trump talk, Arvind Panagariya, sherpa for India at the Summit, tweeted about it, along with pictures of the two leaders and others.
Japan will host a summit meeting of the G-20 for the first time in 2019, according to a joint declaration issued after the two-day summit.
- An editorial in the left leaning Japan Times focused on fears that the U.S. would turn its back on the world in pursuit of narrowly defined nationalism and concluded that “If last week’s Group of 20 meeting in Hamburg is any indication, the worst fears are justified. Trump has no interest in global leadership, and is prepared to endure international isolation as he doggedly follows his instincts and his agenda.” It also criticized the G-20 communique for not mentioning North Korea, “a stunning omission in light of the long-range missile test that occurred days before the summit…” Still, it sounded a hopeful note given that President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met trilaterally on the sidelines to confirm their cooperation to address the North Korean threat. Abe and Moon also held a bilateral sit-down at which they agreed to build “future-oriented” bilateral relations. The editorial worried that although other world leaders such as Abe are trying to fill the gap “created by Trump’s myopia,” ultimately, “A G-19 is, despite the math, much smaller than a G-20.”
- A similar view criticizing President Trump was presented in the editorial of the liberal Mainichi. It lamented that President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy has changed the G20, noting that, “leaders had no option but to make concessions to Trump, who has pushed protections for industries in his home country.” It pointed out that most G20 countries believe that international cooperation leads to greater national gain whereas Trump holds a different view.
- The government controlled Sputnik News focused its coverage of the G20 summit on the much anticipated meeting between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. It noted that the meeting originally scheduled for 30 minutes, lasted for over two hours and applauded that Trump and Putin agreed on Friday to enforce a new ceasefire across southern Syria that will come into effect within two days. It pointed out that for the first time ever, Trump committed the United States to active involvement in implementing the Minsk Accord on Ukraine. For Sputnik, these agreements sparked optimism as the main sources of conflict between Russia and the former Obama administration were Syria and Ukraine. The meeting is seen as a boost to US-Russia relations.
- Finian Cunningham arguing in the state supported RT expressed similar views in his op-ed: “Defying a tyrannical mindset of Russophobia in his home country, the American president greeted his Russian counterpart with grace and respect.” US media was heavily attacked too saying, that due to the heavy criticism of President Trump and “Russophobia” of the mainstream US media, the two world leaders were “boxed in” and, until the G20 summit, were not able to hold constructive talks.
Most of the Brazilian media coverage of the G-20 summit focused on the Brazilian political crisis and Brazilian President Michel Temer’s late decision to attend. The reporting focused on corruption charges leveled at the president and the Brazilian Congress’ deliberations to vote to seek his removal from office. The coverage summed up his attendance as inconsequential and poorly planned, and noted that he did not schedule any bilateral meetings with any of the world leaders during the summit and exited before the final proceedings ended.
- Exame.com reported that President Michel Temer decided at the last moment to participate in the summit. The outlet reports that officials at the foreign ministry, known as the Itamaraty, strongly encouraged the president to attend despite his evident problems in Brasilia. At the meeting, Temer repeated that there is not a crisis in Brazil. Exame.com quoted a former Brazilian diplomat, Luís Fernando Panelli, that Temer’s trip was unnecessary given that Temer’s participation could only be marginal given his very tenuous status. Former Brazilian ambassador to Washington, Rubens Barbosa, suggested that a decision not to attend would have been worse. Temer’s participation and the reduced role of Brazil at the G-20 summit has raised questions about the future of Brazilian foreign policy and how best to move forward given the political crisis in Brasilia.
- Carta Capital reported that the Brazilian President returned early from the G-20 meeting and stated that he was very relaxed despite the growing calls for his removal, “I am going to continue to work for the country, to make the economy grow so that everyone can enjoy some peace of mind.” The report also suggested that while his participation was controversial, it was necessary to restore Brazil’s role in global affairs despite the crisis. Carta Capital also reported that Temer spoke with United States President Donald Trump and suggested that a meeting of U.S. and Brazilian business be organized, and that Trump thought it was a “good idea.” Carta Capital also reported on Temer’s participation in the BRICS meeting where the embattled Brazilian president reassured attendees that Brazil is now growing again and that the nation would comply with the Paris climate change agreement.