G20: Hamburg

Hamburg G20 summit: what’s changed since last year’s gathering

This year’s meeting of world leaders takes place against a different global political and economic landscape than the one in Hangzhou, China in 2016, with increased geopolitical tensions and some new faces among the attendees

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 July, 2017, 2:31pm
UPDATED : Friday, 07 July, 2017, 2:31pm

When world leaders meet in northern German city of Hamburg for the two-day G20 summit from Friday, they will confront a very different global economic landscape than the one in which last year’s meeting in the Chinese city of Hangzhou took place. Here is a brief rundown of what has changed.

Trump vs the rest

If the Hangzhou summit was meant to reaffirm a determination to pursue an international economic order capable of delivering inclusive growth in face of a slowdown, then Hamburg may see protectionism pitted against globalisation, or more likely, US President Donald Trump and his “America First” policies against the rest of world.

Trump shocked the world by withdrawing the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal as well as the Paris climate agreement, two legacies of his predecessor Barack Obama. The former US president had formally ratified the Paris deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping in the lead-up to the Hangzhou summit.

It remains unclear how the issues will be pursued in Hamburg, but leaders in Europe have warned that the climate agreement is not negotiable, leaving little room for Trump to manoeuvre.

A wide gap on climate emerged in late May when leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy nations said they had failed to convince Trump to endorse the climate accord in their final communique. The Hamburg summit will be a test of just how big that gap has become.

China’s role

Last year, when Xi Jinping hosted the summit, it was so carefully choreographed that it was almost perfect for Beijing, except for a tiff between American and Chinese officials over the circumstances of Obama’s arrival at the airport.

Though China is expected to continue to pursue its role as a leading supporter of free trade and globalisation, the Hamburg summit will be a tougher test for Xi.

Ties between China and the US have been strained in the recent weeks over the issue of North Korea, with the Trump administration hardening its approach to Beijing, approving a multibillion-dollar arms deal with Taiwan, which Beijing sees as part of its territory, and sending a guided-missile destroyer near a sensitive archipelago claimed by China in the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, China’s hesitance to take action to cut steel overcapacity has provided common ground for the leaders of Europe and the US to challenge Xi. China makes more than half of the world’s steel, but has faced criticism from other countries that its cheap steel is flooding markets and pulling down prices. The White House has said that Trump will demand action from G20 leaders to reduce excess capacity in the global steel market.

North Korea

North Korea will be high on agenda in Hamburg, after its recent intercontinental ballistic missile test, and, without the privilege of being the host, China will inevitably face tremendous pressure from the US and other G20 members. Many of them say Beijing, Pyongyang’s main ally, is not doing enough to curb its nuclear ambitions.

South Korea has warned there is a strong possibility that Pyongyang could carry out another nuclear weapons test: its last one was four days after the Hangzhou summit.

Though Trump’s North Korea policy remains unclear, he has a different approach to that of Obama, who practised the so-called strategic patience. The US has said that military force could be an option to stop Pyongyang’s weapons programmes.

Other areas of tension

Relations between Russia and the US have reached a new low point after Russia threatened to target US-led coalition aircraft in Syria.

Meanwhile, tensions between China and India, both G20 members, are escalating amid a military stand-off, the worst one in years, along their shared border. Beijing has said that Xi and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will not have a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of G20, as the atmosphere is not conducive.

New participants

Hamburg will be the first G20 summit for French President Emmanuel Macron, whose landslide victory in elections in early May has boosted the confidence of globalisation advocates amid widespread concerns over rising populism in Europe.

The world will be watching whether the 39-year-old, centre-left politician and a firm defender of the Paris climate deal has a magic wand to, as he put it himself, “bring Trump to his senses” and make him reconsider his decision to pull out of the climate accord.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who was sworn in May, will make his international debut at the summit. Moon’s policies to re-engage with his Northern neighbour have been put under scrutiny after the North’s ballistic missile test, which came only days after Moon met Trump in Washington.

The summit will also be the first one for Italian Prime Minister Paolo Silveri, who took the office in December. Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who hosts this year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group meetings, is also on the guest list for Hamburg.