Trump sows seeds of wider trade conflict ahead of historic talks

The summit between the US president and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un may have boosted peace hopes, but a White House spat with Canadian PM Justin Trudeau and G7 members threatens to turn ugly

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2018, 5:50am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2018, 5:50am

Tuesday’s summit between the American and North Korean leaders in Singapore will not be the only reason this week will be remembered for events that may shape the world for better or worse. En route to a meeting with Kim Jong-un to try to reduce the risk of a nuclear holocaust, US President Donald Trump lobbed another bomb into the multilateral trading system that underpins global peace and stability.

A world accustomed to the United States and Canada being best friends remains bewildered by an insulting personal attack by Trump on Canada’s young prime minister, Justin Trudeau.

Trump launches tweet tirade at allies, then says it’s great to be in Singapore

It shattered the facade of consensus in a joint communique following a quarrelsome G7 summit of rich nations in Quebec. After having left early to prepare for the Kim summit, Trump launched a Twitter broadside from aboard Air Force One.

He took issue with comments made at a news conference by Trudeau, who confirmed retaliatory measures for US tariffs on steel and aluminium imports based on “insulting” national security grounds.

Describing Trudeau as “meek and mild” and “very dishonest and weak”, Trump instructed officials not to endorse the communique and threatened tariffs on automobiles in response to “massive tariffs on our US farmers, workers and companies”. Two Trump aides excoriated Trudeau in the same vein.

The rhetorical spiral into what would be an economically destructive global trade war is frightening. Common sense must prevail. Happily, it was to be found in the coastal Chinese city of Qingdao at the 18th Shanghai Cooperation Organisation security summit.

The contrast between the two forums was a perfect example of the way to do multilateralism and how not to. Even Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was there, and signed river data and rice deals, an indication border tensions have eased. Iran attended as an observer, a sign of the organisation’s growing influence.

Its eight members, led by President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, reached a consensus on strengthening cooperation on anti-terrorism and efforts to rebuild war-torn Afghanistan.

As Trudeau spars with The Donald after G7, Canada’s own Trump rises

Beijing also talked up regional efforts to boost economic cooperation. Xi offered 30 billion yuan (HK$36.7 billion) to the bloc’s banking consortium and emphasised the potential for infrastructure development under China’s “Belt and Road Initiative”.

In a swipe at the G7 disarray in Canada, Xi defended the World Trade Organisation and a multilateral system in a world where “unilateralism, protectionism and a backlash against globalisation” was taking new forms.

He could have been talking about Trump’s policies. Today’s summit could make the world a safer place. At the same time, Trump’s trade policies could sow the seeds of wider conflict.