Climate change and trade dominated talks at the G20 Summit held the weekend of July 7-8 in Hamburg, Germany, coming at a time of shifting political relationships largely thanks to – yes, you guessed it – our friend Donald. Trump sat down for the first time with many of the players involved in his little plans: Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. We also learned that Trump has a lot more respect for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau than for many others in the room, and that he is trying to amend what was previously a cold relationship with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Trump meets his role model
Trump and Putin met for two hours and seemed to hit it off, and although their warm words contrasted their restrained body language, Trump called their talks “very, very good”. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson commented that “the meeting was very constructive”, and that “there was a very clear positive chemistry between the two.”
In Putin’s words, their discussion included “Ukraine, Syria, and other problems, also some bilateral issues. We have again returned to the fight against terror and to cyber security.”
One positive, and surprising, sign is agreeing to a ceasefire in southwestern Syria starting from July 9. The two countries have backed opposite sides of the Syrian war for years, with Russia supporting President Bashar al-Assad, and the US supporting rebel fighters.
The allegations of Russia interference in the 2016 election were not resolved, although Trump pushed this topic and they had a “very robust exchange”. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later said that Trump accepted Putin’s assertions that the claims were false, and Tillerson told the Associated Press news agency that “the President is rightly focused on [moving] forward from what may be simply an intractable disagreement at this point.” It is likely that a definitive conclusion will never emerge.
Interestingly, the two leaders claimed that this was their first face-to-face meeting. In 2013, Trump told late-night host David Letterman that Putin is “a tough guy. I met him once.” In 2014, he said he “spoke indirectly and directly with President Putin, who could not have been nicer.” Last summer, however, he denied having ever met Putin in a campaign press conference. Putin has agreed with these claims, which makes them both look sketchy.
Paris Climate Agreement
This summit is the first meeting of world leaders since Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the 2015 Paris Agreement. The accord is supported by all other members of the G20, besides the US.
In her closing press conference, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said “Unfortunately – and I deplore this – the United States of America left the climate agreement, or rather announced their intention of doing this.” British Prime Minister Theresa May said she was “dismayed” at the decision, and had tried to convince him otherwise.
Trump meets his scapegoat
The border dispute is the reason Trump hasn’t met with his Mexican counterpart since the inauguration until this summit. Nieto canceled his Washington trip earlier this year after a war of words regarding the wall.
On Friday, a reporter asked Trump whether he still wants Mexico to pay for the wall, to which Trump replied “absolutely”. Nieto did not have a chance to respond, as the question came while the reporters were leaving the room.
After the bilateral meeting, the White House released a statement saying the US recognizes the importance of renegotiating NAFTA to benefits all involved parties, and said the two leaders “also discussed regional challenges, including drug trafficking, illegal migration, and the crisis in Venezuela.”
The wall was not mentioned.
Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs Luis Videgaray Caso called the meeting “productive”, and said that he expects “a meaningful, constructive modernization of the agreement” in reference to NAFTA. Renegotiations begin on August 16. When asked about the relationship between the two countries, he said “We have some significant and very public differences, but overall the relationship is good and these meetings prove that.”
Trump seems to respect Trudeau, although it was not sufficient reason for a change of heart regarding the Paris Agreement. In his speech on Saturday morning, Trump praised our “great neighbour in Canada”, saying “Everybody loves [Justin] and they love him for a reason so congratulations on the job you’re doing.”
While the two did not have a bilateral meeting, they did speak on the side about climate change and trade issues. Trudeau stressed the idea that economic growth and environment protection “can and must” go together, saying that “this is something that matters deeply to citizens and impacts directly on our economic growth now and into the future.”
A press release by the Canadian government noted that Trudeau promoted open, progressive trade, and emphasized the importance of gender equality and women’s empowerment — this is why I love Trudeau — as well as the need to take action to address climate change and build clean growth economies. Canada also noted its commitment to fighting terrorism.
Anti-terrorism was also an extensive discussion, largely spearheaded by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He had suggested an anti-terrorism plan to Merkel back in May, and pushed to alter the theme of this summit from “globalization and trade” to “global terror”. In a speech, he emphatically stated that “Deterrent action should be taken against countries supporting terrorism. The entry of such countries in the G20 should be banned.”
US announcement of $639 million in aid for Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, and Nigeria, coincided with the summit. However, there is concern regarding Trump’s proposed cuts of over 30% to foreign aid. Also, Congress approved this money months ago, but it finally came through.
Trump also met with South Korean and Japanese leaders, saying that “something has to be done” about the nuclear threat by North Korea. The Trump administration has warned China that they have to pressure North Korea. In a statement, the three countries agreed to “press for the early adoption of a new UN Security Council resolution with additional sanctions to demonstrate to [North Korea] that there are serious consequences for its destabilizing, provocative, and escalatory actions.”
What is the G20?
The G20, or Group of Twenty, is a summit of 20 of the largest economies in the world, comprised of nineteen member states, both developed and developing, plus the EU. It was formed in 1999 to discuss policy matters and financial stability, and meets biannually since the 2008 economic crisis.
Tens of thousands were protesting outside the summit, against capitalism and climate policies, among other issues. Protests are not uncommon outside such gatherings, and this summit was no different.
Majority of the protestors were peaceful, although this was not the impression conveyed by violent images on social media. One of the most creative was by a German performance collective, who painted themselves grey and dressed up like zombies, in a statement about political apathy in the world.
However, some turned violent and clashed with police, smashing windows, torching vehicles, and looting retail stores. Regarding this, Merkel commented, “I have every understanding for peaceful demonstrations but violent demonstrations put human lives in danger.”
Many people contend with the very idea of the G20, where twenty-some world leaders making deals behind closed doors. Some concerns mentioned by protesters include, but are not limited to, climate change and economic issues, Russia’s interference in Syria, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on dissidents, and corruption allegations surrounding Brazil’s Michel Temer. And of course, general Trump things.
According to Al Jazeera’s David Chater, “There are so many issues involved politically in the G20 summit,” adding that the protestors “are against the globalist capitalist system, they are against Trump’s attempts to pull out of the climate change accords. They’re essentially protesting every single issue that [was] raised in this G20 summit.”
Addressing those who do not feel the G20 is there to help them, Trudeau says, “We know that the anxiety the citizens around the world are feeling is real.”
Trump’s other bro?
When Trump met Macron back in May at the NATO summit in Brussels after the French election, there appeared to be some tension between the two. However, at the G20 summit they shared a bro clasp, and stood side-by-side for the traditional family photo. Telling? I think so.
Macron invited him to France for Bastille Day celebrations on July 14. He watched the parade alongside Macron, where both French and US troops marched, to honour the US’s entry into World War I.
This may be the start of a new friendship; Trump commented on their long standing relationship: “France is America’s first and oldest ally. A lot of people don’t know that,” he said. “It was a long time ago, but we are together. And I think together, perhaps, more so than ever. The relationship is very good.”