American President Donald Trump displayed his readiness to lead the superpower on a lone path at the G20 summit, writes Demola Ojo with agency reports
The two-day G20 summit which ended yesterday in Hamburg, Germany, highlighted how much has changed with the United States and its role in the world since the inauguration of Donald Trump as president earlier this year.
The G20 is an international forum for the governments and central bank governors from 20 major economies. Currently, these are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union.
Founded in 1999, the G20 aims to discuss policy issues pertaining to the promotion of international financial stability and seeks to address issues that go beyond the responsibilities of any one country.
The US, usually used to playing the role of leader of a strong coalition of Western nations against rogue states, has now become a lone voice of opposition in the wilderness against the rest of its traditional allies and other countries that may not consider themselves in that category.
As many feared, Trump is pulling the US further away from the mainstream, while increasingly isolating his country in the quest to “make America great again”.
The issue that most reflected this in Hamburg was the Paris Agreement on climate change, a deal Trump recently pulled the US out of like he promised to do during his campaign.
Leaders of the 19 other nations that make up the G20 renewed their pledge to implement the Paris deal, despite US opposition. Deadlock over the issue had held up the last day of talks in Hamburg but a final agreement was eventually reached.
It acknowledges Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement without undermining the commitment of other countries.
The joint summit statement released saturday said: “We take note of the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.”
However, the leaders of the other G20 members agreed the accord committing nations to restrict global temperature increases was “irreversible”.
In her closing news conference, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she still deplored Trump’s position on the Paris accord but she was “gratified” the other 19 nations opposed its renegotiation.
“I think it’s very clear that we could not reach consensus, but the differences were not papered over, they were clearly stated,” Mrs Merkel told reporters.
The statement also said the US would “endeavour to work closely with other countries to help them access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently”.
Trump has pledged to help the US coal industry make a comeback and has previously characterised the Paris agreement as trying to disadvantage American workers.
Trump – again in opposition – won another concession on trade. While renewing a pledge against protectionism, the communiqué for the first time underlined the right of countries to protect their markets. Within the summit, Trump’s “America First” strategy to protect US companies from outside competition caused divisions with traditional Western allies.
This necessitated a compromise in the final summit statement which committed G20 members to combating protectionism but also permits “legitimate trade defence instruments”.
The G20 meeting saw a number of tense encounters between Trump and other world leaders, with a particular clash between him and the French delegation over climate change, but also tensions over protectionism and the overproduction of steel.
In a move that further reinforced the image of the G20 as the G19 + 1, Trump cancelled his own scheduled news conference yesterday.
But it wasn’t just at the top table that disapproval for the US president and his country’s position on issues was exhibited.
Demonstrators – who were protesting against the presence of Trump (as well as Russia’s President Vladimir Putin) – set fire to vehicles and barricades, threw rocks at officers and looted shops.
At one point, police chased protesters across rooftops while officers on the streets used water cannon on protesters. Nearly 200 police officers were injured during the protests. Dozens of protesters have been detained.
United with Russia?
Both presidents met on the sidelines of the summit to discuss the alleged Russian hacking of last year’s US presidential election. Putin said Trump had accepted his assurances that Moscow had not interfered in the vote.
He said he had established a working relationship with his US counterpart and a ceasefire in southern Syria – agreed between the US, Russia and Jordan on Friday – was a result of America becoming more pragmatic.
“There is every reason to believe that we will be able to at least partially re-establish the level of cooperation that we need,” Putin said. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the two “connected very quickly” with “very clear positive chemistry”.
The warm nature of Trump and Putin’s encounter is certainly not what Americans and their Western allies are used to. It just goes further to reinforce the new reality that has dawned on the world; the US has ‘abdicated’ its role as leader of a Western coalition and decided to do what is best for it and it alone, even if it is against the interests of its traditional allies and if necessary, form new alliances.
Going against the Grain
In another unusual move Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, briefly took her father’s seat at a summit of world leaders yesterday. The US president had stepped away for a meeting with the Indonesian leader during the G20 meeting.
Ms Trump is an adviser to her father, but a leader’s absence is usually covered by high-ranking officials.
There has been widespread criticism on social media with no one able to recall any similar precedent. President Trump returned a short while later to retake his seat between the British prime minister and the Chinese president. A photograph of her presence was tweeted by a Russian attendee, but later deleted.
Some users highlighted that Ms Trump is unelected, or questioned her credentials – as a fashion brand owner – to sit at such a senior diplomatic meeting.
Others lampooned her appearance among the world’s most powerful leaders after her claim in an interview two weeks ago that she tries to “stay out of politics”.
She had joined her father for an earlier G20 event yesterday on women’s entrepreneurship and finance, along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Christine Lagarde, director of the International Monetary Fund.
All three women had previously appeared together on a panel during the G20 women’s summit in Berlin in April.
After a brief modelling career as a teenager, Ms Trump was given a job in her father’s company where she expanded the Trump hotel brand and became an executive vice-president of development, alongside her siblings.
She is married to Jared Kushner, who also plays in influential role in Donald Trump’s White House. Both appointments were met with widespread opposition and are symbolic of a president ready to go against the grain; at home and abroad.
Pix: Trump (centre) is atg odds with leaders of traditional allies France (Macron) and Germany