G7 Summit: Semblance of unity

World leaders pose for a family photo during the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, on August 25, 2019. PHOTO: ANDREW PARSONS/POOL VIA REUTERS

The two-day 45th G7 Summit concluded recently at the French resort in Biarritz. What was unusual this time was the fact that the summit ended without issuing a final communique, essentially because there was hardly any consensus on any of the major issues facing the world. President Emanuel Macron abandoned the idea of a communique simply because he did not want President Donald Trump to skip the summit or leave abruptly midway through the meeting, as he did at the 44th Summit held in Canada last year. However, both Macron and Trump capped the meeting with an extraordinary press conference praising each other. Both leaders gave mixed signals and surprises rather than concrete results.

The Iran nuclear issue was probably the most divisive issue during the debates. Trump pulled out of the 2015 JCPOA in 2018, and imposed sanctions on Iran because the deal apparently did not sufficiently reign in Iran from developing nuclear weapons and missiles. Hoping to achieve a breakthrough on the issue, Macron spoke to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani prior to the summit and asked him to send Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to Biarritz for talks on the sidelines of the summit. At the press conference, Macron detailed that it was agreed by all the members that Iran cannot be allowed to have nuclear weapons. Surprising Trump, he said that France shall take the initiative to bring President Trump and President Rouhani together for a face-to-face meeting in the coming weeks.

To recall, the JCPOA was approved by the UN Security Council and thus has the status of international law. It was a victory for multilateralism. And since withdrawing from JCPOA, Washington has been asking European allies to walk out on the deal—which amounts to violating international law. The crux of the issue is not what Europe shall do with Iran—rather how European leaders can be independent of Washington.

Rouhani last week said in Tehran that he was willing to meet any leader (i.e., Donald Trump) to resolve the standoff with America. While replying to questions, Trump praised the people of Iran and said that Washington was not looking for leadership change in Tehran. Without naming Rouhani, he indicated that a meeting with him was "possible" if the Iranian government behaved responsibly.

Several questions crop up here. Will Rouhani agree to meet Trump while US sanctions are still in place? Possibly yes, because the Iranian economy is in a pretty bad shape thanks to the sanctions. Where can Trump and Rouhani meet? Probably in New York in September 2019 during the next UN General Assembly. What will be the reactions in Tel Aviv and Riyadh? It will be a nightmare for both these countries, if there is a rapprochement between Washington and Tehran.

On the trade-war with China, Donald Trump denied that it was an issue at the meeting, though all other leaders of G7 wanted the issue to be resolved quickly. Interestingly, though China, the second largest economy in the world, came up for long discussions, there was no Chinese delegation at the meeting. Negotiations between US and China so far have not yielded any resolution and no deal is in sight. Japan and South Korea are also locked in a tariff war and there are disagreements between the US and Japan over trade.

At a time when this bruising tariff war between the two largest economies of the world continues and are complicated by uncertainties rattling major stock exchanges, US economic sanctions on different countries, Brexit, China's huge debt, political turmoil in Latin America, climate disaster in Brazil, etc., economic recession is staring most developed economies in the face.

Donald Trump announced that Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, who has been leading the negotiations for China, has called senior officials in Washington and said that China was willing to resolve the dispute through "calm". Trump imposed tariffs apparently because China has a huge trade surplus earned from unfair trade practices and theft of US intellectual property. He said US tariffs have greatly weakened the Chinese economy already losing 3 million jobs. Trump is convinced Beijing will double down for a fair deal.

The other issue of global concern at the meeting was the Amazon rainforest fires that are causing irreversible damage to the global climate. President Macron, passionate about climate change said, "Our house is burning. Literally". The leaders have decided to release USD 22 million to help fight the fires. Trump quit the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change Mitigation on grounds that the accord will undermine the US economy.

Interestingly, Trump spoke of inviting Russia back into the G7 and make it G8. Russia was a member of this forum from 1997 until 2014, but was excluded when Moscow annexed Crimea. The Europeans are still smarting under the fear of Russian expansionism and would not like to sit down with Vladimir Putin. For Trump, inviting Putin back to the group may not go well with the Democrats in America, as according to them, Russia apparently meddled in the last US election.

Flamboyant British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, after meeting with Donald Trump, said that he had high hopes for a free trade deal with America. What he did not say is that Europe is the biggest trading partner of Britain and by dropping out of the EU, the UK will lose parts of the European market. The Brexit deal has become a pain in the neck for both EU and UK and a no-deal Brexit seems more likely now. One has to wait and see whether Johnson survives till October 31, 2019, the date when UK has to leave EU.

On Hong Kong, the G7 reaffirmed the importance of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration and called to avoid violence.

Leaders of Australia, Burkina Faso, Chile, Egypt, India, Senegal, Rwanda and South Africa were also in Biarritz to meet G7 leaders on the sidelines of the meeting. It was a summit of debates, but no concrete decisions.

Mahmood Hasan is a former Ambassador and Secretary of Bangladesh.


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