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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Saturday, November 25, 2017

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All the moments that mattered at the year’s most important political gathering: G20 highlights

A family photo that said too much 

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HAMBURG, Germany - On day one of the crucial Group of Twenty Summit in Germany’s northern port city, Hamburg, the violent state of affairs dominated international headlines, even as the host, German Chancellor Angela Merkel presented the global challenges, as she opened one of the more contentious G20 summits in recent years. 

The G20 summit includes 19 countries, both developed and developing, plus the EU and Merkel said, in her short and relatively anodyne opening statement on Friday morning, "We are all aware of the great global challenges. We know that time is short and therefore solutions very often can only be found if we are ready to compromise and work together without bending over backwards too much because, of course, we can express different views on some issues." 

The German chancellor said she hoped that the summit meeting would “contribute to allaying” the “fears, needs and anxieties” of the world’s peoples. 

The camp of the German host saw some frustrations initially despite her carefully prepared summit agenda, first by dominant protesters who have been descending on Hamburg for weeks now, and then with crucial flashpoint in the summit being overshadowed by the hype surrounding U.S. and Russian Presidents, Trump and Putin and their first face-to-face meeting.

Those present at the G20 represent two-thirds of the world’s population, four-fifths of the world’s gross domestic product and three-quarters of the world’s trade, Merkel said, and the rest of the world expected results.

Merkel noted that the symbol of this meeting — a naval reef knot — was intended to show that the world is interconnected.

She said, “The more you pull on it, the better it holds.”

The meetings officially got underway Friday morning with an opening session on terrorism. 

In their initial talks, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took the lead in urging G20 leaders to impress upon Trump that he should act as a role model in addressing climate change.

Trudeau reportedly told German tabloid Bild, “We'll tell him it's important to take a lead role in tackling climate change and creating good jobs.”

Merkel meanwhile said the G20 will focus on the Paris climate deal but, as the G20 host, she would work to find compromises.

Merkel and other EU leaders have also expressed their commitment to an open international trading system, while the Trump administration has championed more protectionist policies, under the "America First" motto.

A tense environment, courtesy Trump

Friday schedule was stacked with possibly tense conversations for Trump, that including a prolonged sit-down with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.

During Friday morning's leader retreat, Trump chose a strategic seat between British Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela and was seen chatting with the British Prime Minister. 

Putin meanwhile was seated next to Pena Nieto. 

Trump, who flew to Germany from Poland on Thursday afternoon, met with Merkel upon landing.

He had dinner with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae In, with discussions about North Korea’s mighty nuclear threat presumed to have featured in the discussion.

Meanwhile, on Friday he participated in his first face-to-face meeting with the Russian President, a meeting that was watched by the world, and more closely so due to the number of investigations back home that are trying to answer one question that has haunted his presidency - Russia’s meddling into the U.S. Presidential election. 

At the meeting, that came a day after Trump needled Moscow for trying to destabilise Ukraine and others, and urged Russia to end support to hostile regimes like Syria and Iran - Trump claimed he was honoured to meet Putin, who in turn said he was delighted to meet the U.S. President in person. 

While neither of the leaders revealed the subjects discussed during their sit-down meeting, officials from both the countries have said that the agenda of their talks was sure to feature Syria and Ukraine and possibly North Korea’s recent intercontinental ballistic missile test.

Trump’s Mexican love

Trump hailed Mexico's president as his "friend" in their first face-to-face meeting.

The U.S. President met Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on the sidelines of the summit and the meeting came months after Nieto, who was scheduled to be among Trump's first international White House guests, abruptly cancelled the visit after a public spat over Trump's proposed border wall.

Trump, however, maintains that he will build the border wall to keep drugs and criminals out of the U.S., and on Friday, he said that he "absolutely" wants Mexico to pay for the wall.

Pena Nieto continues to insist Mexico will not pay for the wall.

After the meeting, Trump said, “It's great to be with my friend the president of Mexico,” while Nieto said he hopes to continue a "flowing dialogue."

A family photo that said too much

The annual tradition of having a G20 ‘Family Photo’ taken too was following and this time the photo was taken at the beginning of the G20 summit.

The photo, many experts noted highlighted global divisions on critical issues such as climate change and trade.

The 2017 picture shows German Chancellor Angela Merkel front and centre, as tradition dictates for a host nation and she is flanked by Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on her left.

To her right side was Argentine President Mauricio Macri, who will host the next summit, South African leader Jacob Zuma, Mexico’s Pena Nieto and Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron are seen exiled to the fringes.

According to some experts, placement during these photographs at summits can be a politicised affair, with critical optics that can boost or diminish a leader’s global standing.

As per G20 tradition, global leaders who have served the longest in power are closer to the centre of the photo and therefore India’s Narendra Modi, Japan’s Shinzo Abe and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull find a relatively prominent position.

Those newer to the job tend to take positions on the outer reaches, which this year included newly elected Trump and Macron.

However, the placement underscored critical ructions in international affairs that have begun to develop under Trump’s approach to trade and the environment.

The contentious climate deal

Merkel, in her opening statement, said the countries would aim to work together “without giving up our principles.”

She added, “We can very clearly say ‘we differ’,” while pointing out “solutions can only be found if we are ready to compromise.”

And despite Trump’s decision to pull out, leaders of Brazil, Russia, India and China issued a joint statement touting the Paris climate agreement, which they said would be implemented.

Jinping said, “The Paris agreement on climate change is an important consensus that doesn’t come easily and must not be given up easily.”

The British Prime Minister Theresa May said G20 leaders are urging Trump to reconsider his decision and added, “We are not renegotiating the Paris agreement, that stays, but I want to see the U.S. looking for ways to rejoin it.”

Merkel is also under internal pressure at the summit. She faces an election in September and has to ensure the summit is a success in bringing together vastly different political leaders against a backdrop of major security concerns.

In May, during the G7 meetings in Sicily, Trump refused to agree to the climate change language in the communique, making it a six against one scenario.

On Friday, due to the protests, even a back door effort to influence Trump on climate change seemed to have failed.

As per her schedule, Merkel had planned a tour of the German climate change centre in Hamburg for G20 spouses. 

The centre uses supercomputers to model climate change impacts around the world and First Lady Melania Trump was to have been part of it.

However, Melania was unable to leave the residence where she was staying on Friday after failing to get a clearance from the local police battling violent protests.

The climate change discussion was however scheduled for the afternoon leaders' session.

So far, 152 of the 197 countries which signed the Paris Agreement in 2015 have ratified it, including Canada and Russia is not one of them.

Let’s talk trade

The Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is said to have had a private meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel early Friday just prior to the official start of the summit.

The two leaders reportedly spoke briefly about Trudeau's children for the cameras before going behind closed doors for a 30-minute private meeting to discuss the Canada-Europe free trade agreement (CETA).

On Thursday, Trudeau said his aim with Merkel is to always find out how she thinks Canada can help.

He said, “We are not a big, big country in terms of our weight, but we have an ability to get certain things done. Word is she feels we can or should be doing a little more. Whether it's encouraging friends and neighbours to have a different take on things, or being partners on multilateral engagements, like with NATO country Latvia, holding the eastern border."

Trudeau also held bilateral meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

He is set to meet with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on Saturday.

Meanwhile, more importantly, Merkel will try to get as many other leaders as possible on board for her energy action plan.

Merkel has put forward The working paper as part of her G20 presidency year, which is expected as an appendix to the G20 official communique.

The document, which reportedly includes language on everything from fossil fuel subsidies to requirements for companies to disclose the climate impacts of their investments and business practices, will be signed by the leaders, declaring what was decided in the meeting.

Experts believe that getting 19 of the G20 leaders to sign the document would be a tremendous political success for Merkel in her battle with Trump.

Going nuclear on nuclear North Korea

U.S., Japan and South Korea together condemned North Korea’s ballistic missile test this week as a “major escalation” and promised to apply “maximum pressure” to counter Pyongyang’s nuclear threat.

The three countries issued a joint statement, in which they said that the launch was “a major escalation that directly violates multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions and that clearly demonstrates the growing threat” North Korea poses.

They added, “President Trump reaffirmed the ironclad commitment of the United States to defend the ROK (Republic of Korea) and Japan using the full range of its conventional and nuclear capabilities.”

Meanwhile, at the summit, South Korea’s president Moon Jae In said he is in favour of dialogue with North Korea despite the “nuclear provocation” of its test launch this week of what Pyongyang said was a nuclear-capable intercontinental missile.

Jae In spoke to reporters after a meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin and said he saw a role for Putin in helping de-escalate the crisis on the Korean peninsula. 

Putin meanwhile warned all parties involved against losing self-control, urging a “pragmatic, accurate” approach to its missile programme.

When frenemies smile for the camera

A meeting on the sidelines, that was not expected in both the countries, went underway rather awkwardly, when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, shook hands with the Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The meeting came at a tense time for both the leaders, as their countries are engaged in a stand-off in the Dokalam area near the Bhutan tri-junction for the past three weeks after a Chinese Army’s construction party attempted to build a road. Doka La is the Indian name of the region which Bhutan recognises as Dokalam while China claims it as part of its Donglang region.

The Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Gopal Baglay confirmed that the leaders engaged in a brief conversation on the sidelines of the Summit on Friday and discussed a “range of issues” during the BRICS leaders’ informal meeting in Hamburg.

The spokesperson tweeted, “At d BRICS leaders’ informal gathering @ Hamburg hosted by China, PM @narendramodi and President Xi had a conversation on a range of issues.”

The Ministry also tweeted a photograph of Modi and Jinping shaking hands.

The meeting comes a day after a top Chinese official said the “atmosphere” is “not right” for a bilateral meeting between the two leaders. 

Modi reportedly said the ups and downs in the global politics and worsening security situation is affecting everyone.

He told the presidents from BRICS nations — Michel Temer (Brazil), Vladimir Putin (Russia), Xi Jinping (China) and Jacob Zuma (South Africa), “BRICS has to be a voice of stability, reform, progress and governance at the world stage.”

Modi said that the spread of terrorism is a threat for societies in Asia and Europe as he expressed concern over its increasing influence in the war-torn Afghanistan.

Further, issues toppling the West Asian region, that has been marred by conflict between Israel and Palestine and battle against the ISIS terror group, civil wars in Syria, Libya and Yemen were discussed.

 

 

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