Notes on the G20 Summit

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December 3, 2018

The remedy to world’s problems is effective multilateralism. Since the U.N. resists reform and is dysfunctional, regular international gatherings of leading countries understandably create expectations. The G20 is such a group. Collectively, G20 members make up 85% of the world’s economic output, 66% of its population, 75% of international trade and 80% of global investment. Countries which chair key regional groups are invited to the summits making it more representative. Thus, it is one of the world’s leading international forums on global affairs where members can rise above narrow agendas and engage in meaningful dialogue.  For that to happen, however, there must be a collective will which is lacking. Had there been such a will perhaps the U.N. wouldn’t have been such a disappointment.

Paragraph 5 of the Buenos Aires Leaders’ Declaration reads, “We renew our commitment to work together to improve a rules-based international order that is capable of effectively responding to a rapidly changing world.” How very reassuring!

Some leaders arrived in Buenos Aires with problems on the domestic front: Mr Trump with the Mueller probe and Mr Macron with the “yellow vests”. And, Chancellor Merkel, Europe’s de facto leader, is still trying to deal with the poor performance of her coalition in last year’s Bundestag election.

Russia’s detention of Ukrainian sailors led to the cancellation of Mr Putin’s meeting with Mr Trump and Prince Salman must have had the Khashoggi murder constantly on his mind.

What interest could Russia possibly have in triggering such an incident on the eve of the G20 summit remains a question.

President Putin and Prince Salman shared a laugh and a high-five at the G20 summit. This could have reminded some of the Skripal case. The two leaders also had a meeting, but the Kremlin website carried only pictures.

Prince Salman’s long absence from Riyadh showed that he remains firmly in control for the time being and didn’t mind giving his domestic rivals a window of opportunity for a palace coup. G20 leaders said that they look forward to their meetings in Japan in 2019 and in Saudi Arabia in 2020. Secretary Pompeo told the CNN there’s no direct evidence linking the Crown Prince to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. MBS should be relieved.

On the sidelines of the summit, Presidents Donald Trump and Enrique Peña Nieto and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signed the revised North American Free Trade Agreement. President Trump was the master of the ceremony. In thanking those officials who had contributed to negotiating the Agreement he mentioned first U.S. Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer and then Jared Kushner, secretaries Pompeo and Mnuchin. And when the newly signed Agreement was turned toward the cameras by the two presidents for the world to catch a glimpse, all one could see was Mr Trump’s signature.  Later in the day, President Enrique Peña Nieto bestowed the Mexican Order of the Aztec Eagle, his country’s highest award for foreigners, on Mr Kushner, Mr Trump’s Middle East Peace envoy, for his role in negotiating the new trade agreement. One may conclude, therefore, that Mr Kushner is primus inter pares among the senior members of the administration and oversees diverse issues.

The U.S. and China called a truce in their trade war. They hope to reach a broader trade agreement in 90 days. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t, we’ll see what happens.

The G20 summit is over but the Middle East turmoil goes on.

And, democracy shares continue to fall on the world political stock exchange…

Ali Tuygan, Ambassador (Ret’d) and former Undersecretary of the Turkish Foreign Ministry. The article is also published on his blog: https://diplomaticopinion.com/2018/12/03/notes-on-the-g20-summit/