World leaders divided as United States president fuels G20 summit tensions

December 01, 2018
G20 Summit
AFP photo

BUENOS AIRES (AFP) -- Fissures on trade, climate change and Ukraine divided world leaders Friday as US President Donald Trump came under sustained fire and Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler came in from the cold at G20 talks.

The leaders of countries representing four-fifths of the global economy opened a two-day meeting in Argentina facing the deepest fractures since the first G20 summit convened 10 years ago in the throes of financial crisis.

Trump was attacked for destroying the group’s past unity on trade and climate change. But he won a breakthrough with the signing of a new trade pact for North America and, having ignited a trade war with China, touted “good signs” ahead of a dinner Saturday with President Xi Jinping.

In remarks to the summit relayed by the Xinhua news agency, Xi reaffirmed his pledges of economic reform “with increased efforts in intellectual property rights protection and more imports.”

If that was designed to soothe Trump, Xi more generally urged his fellow G20 leaders “to stick to openness” and to “steer (the) world economy responsibly,” Xinhua reported.

The summit began in Buenos Aires with a traditional “family photo” by the leaders of a group whose relationships range from warm and friendly to chilly and distrustful.

Elsewhere in Buenos Aires, as Argentina goes through a painful economic crisis, tens of thousands of protesters rallied peacefully to denounce the government for spending millions on the summit while the public endures rocketing inflation and unemployment.

They paraded with signs attacking Trump and the International Monetary Fund, whose largesse is keeping Argentina afloat at the cost of hard-hitting austerity measures.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, under pressure himself after his security forces seized three Ukrainian ships, set the tone for a combative two days by condemning the “vicious” use of sanctions and trade protectionism.

The target was clear, as Trump — who canceled a planned meeting with Putin in Buenos Aires — tears up the stability promoted by the G20 powers a decade ago.

And during a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, Putin was said by a French aide to have drawn a map of the strait off Crimea to buttress his position that the Ukrainian ships had intruded into Russian waters — a claim denied by Kiev.

Long-lost friend

Earlier, Putin grinned broadly and welcomed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman like a long-lost friend with an enthusiastic hand-shake after the group photo, where Trump looked on somberly and Xi stood impassively.

The summit marks a quick return to the international stage for Prince Mohammed after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.

Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May both raised the murder of Khashoggi during meetings with the 33-year-old prince.

May also told British media she intended to use the summit to sell the vision of a “global Britain” after its Brexit departure from the European Union, scheduled for March next year.

European Council President Donald Tusk was more focused on the Ukraine crisis, saying he was “sure” the bloc would roll over its sanctions on Russia next month.

On the G20 front, Tusk admitted the world was undergoing a “difficult moment” overall, as Trump pursues a vision at odds with the idea of collective action on trade and climate change.

Progressive front

US objections on those fronts have seen two major summits this year, of the Group of Seven democracies and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, end without the once-routine statements.

The same disputes were hobbling adoption of a G20 communique, observers said. One French source said European leaders were trying to forge a separate statement on climate change excluding the US.