US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping have been urged to reach a trade deal or risk setting the global economy on a downward path as world leaders gathered in Japan for the G20 summit.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and European President Jean-Claude Juncker piled pressure on the two superpowers yesterday to settle their differences when they meet on the sidelines of the Osaka summit today.
Many other leaders of the world’s top 20 economies also voiced concern over trade tensions and the risk they pose to global growth, but were at loggerheads on key issues such as World Trade Organization (WTO) reform, Japanese and Russian delegates said.
Host Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, appealed for unity among the bickering world leaders.
“A free and open economy is the basis for peace and prosperity,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told his counterparts in the opening of the two-day meeting.
Trump has adopted a belligerent position ahead of the meeting, saying that China was desperate to reach a deal because its economy was “going down the tubes”.
Xi hit back yesterday by saying that some developed countries were taking protectionist measures that are leading to trade conflicts and economic blockade - calling them the biggest risk of the increase in instability in the global economy.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she hoped the US and China would make some progress towards defusing their trade dispute at the meeting.
PUTIN SUPPORTS XI
Putin echoed Xi’s concerns at the same meeting, saying in a thinly veiled attack on the US that attempts to weaken the role of the World Trade Organisation – as Trump has suggested he wants to do – were “counter-productive”.
The current situation in the global economy was worrying, he added, as global trade was feeling the effect of “protectionism [and] politically motivated restrictions”.
Trump is not the only leader facing a pushback from his counterparts.
European Union Council President Donald Tusk blasted Putin for saying in an interview with the Financial Times newspaper that liberalism was “obsolete” and conflicts with the “overwhelming majority” in many countries, reported AP.
Tusk told reporters that such comments suggest a belief that “freedoms are obsolete, that the rule of law is obsolete and that human rights are obsolete.”
Trump yesterday sardonically asked his Russian counterpart to please not meddle in US elections, appearing to make light of a scandal that led to an investigation of his campaign’s contact with the Kremlin during 2016 elections.
“Don’t meddle in the election, please,” Trump said with a smile, waging his finger playfully at Putin as the pair held talks on the sidelines of the G20.
TARIFFS ON INDIA
Ahead of talks with Modi, Trump yesterday softened his warnings about tariffs on India and said “we’re going to have some very big things to announce … with India in terms of trade”.
But that did not stop Modi joining the chorus of warnings about “one-sided decisions” that jeopardised the balanced development of the global economy for all countries.
Juncker said the trade relations between China and the US were “difficult” and were causing a slowdown of the global economy, reported The Guardian.
At a meeting on the G-20 sidelines, Putin, Xi and Modi agreed on the need to rely on international law, respect national sovereignty and refrain from interference in the internal affairs of other nations, Putin said.
Such statements are a swipe at Trump’s “America First” approach in rejecting multilateral initiatives, but also draw a line against criticism of authoritarian governments like China’s and Russia’s.
British Prime Minister Theresa May told Putin yesterday that normal relations will not be restored until Moscow ends its “irresponsible and destabilising” activity, a Downing Street spokesperson said.
The comments came as May met Putin on the sidelines of the summit, their first formal face-to-face since the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal last year, reported AFP.
VERY SERIOUS ISSUES
The G20 meeting could be one of the most explosive in years, with clashes possible over trade, Iran, and climate change.
“We are seeing rising tension over trade and geopolitics, which are downside risks,” a Japanese official said on the sidelines of the talks.
The most eagerly anticipated event will be today when Trump and Xi hold their first face-to-face talks since the last G20. Trump told reporters he expected “productive” talks.
Trade is far from the only contentious issue on the table, with climate change emerging as another sticking point.
Japan is hoping to bridge the gaps between European leaders who want strong action and an American administration committed to withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement.
“The work to consolidate various opinions is expected to be difficult,” a Japanese official admitted to reporters Thursday.
A French source said Washington was trying to bring some countries over to its side and appeared less isolated than before on environmental issues.