As the consequential G20 meeting concluded in Argentina on Saturday, the deep schisms in international relations on everything from climate change to trade wars were on full display. The consensus which the G20 was able to reach on these pivotal issues at its meeting last November was disrupted by the Trump factor.
“The world is undergoing a difficult moment as Trump pursues a vision at odds with the idea of collective action on trade and climate change,” EU President Donald Tusk said at the G20. The US stance on trade and climate change already saw the G7 Summit and the Asia-Pacific Economic Forum end without routine statements. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in Buenos Aires that this is “a make it or break it moment” for climate change. A major UN meeting on climate change starts in Poland on the heels of the G20.
Last week Brazil withdrew its offer to host the 2019 UN conference on climate change, which is the strongest indication yet that newly elected right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro will keep his campaign promise to pull Brazil out of the Paris Accord on climate change. Bolsonaro had shocked environmentalists when he declared his intention to open the Amazon for greater development.
The BRICS leaders met for the first time since Bolsonaro’s election on the sidelines of the G20, and issued a statement saying, “We recommit ourselves to the full implementation of the Paris Agreement,” leaving Bolsonaro’s statements on climate change at odds with those of the BRICS collective.
The BRICS leaders went further by pushing back against Trump’s unilateralist approach and protectionism, saying, “We reaffirm our full support for the rules-based multilateral trading system, as embodied in the WTO, to ensure transparent, non-discriminatory, open and inclusive international trade. The spirit and rules of the WTO run counter to unilateral and protectionist measures.”
Experts claimed that the future of global trade would hinge on the much-anticipated dinner meeting between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping last night, at which US trade advisor Peter Navarro was also present. Both sides had been optimistic that a compromise deal could be reached in the wake of the US imposing tariffs on US$250 billion of Chinese goods, and China retaliating by imposing tariffs on US$110 billion of US products.
Trump cancelled his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 in protest over Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian naval boats last week, with Putin hitting back at the G20 meeting by condemning the “vicious use of sanctions and trade protectionism.”
Putin’s warm and overly-enthusiastic greeting for Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) shocked onlookers and was roundly criticised on social media and in the international press. Putin had greeted MBS with a high five on Friday morning as they sat next to each other at the G20 meeting. MBS was, however, sidelined during the official family photo of G20 leaders and cut a lonely figure.
French President Emmanuel Macron reportedly delivered a strong message to MBS on Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal killing, and British Prime Minister Theresa May raised the issue of Khashoggi’s murder during her meeting with the 33-year-old Prince, and “stressed the importance of ensuring that those responsible for the murder are held to account.”. The Europeans are insisting that international experts be part of the investigation into Khashoggi’s killing. President Cyril Ramaphosa met with MBS on the sidelines of the G20, and is reported to have discussed issues relating to energy and investment in South Africa.
Ramaphosa was accompanied at the G20 by the Minister for International Relations and Cooperation Lindiwe Sisulu and Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni.