G20 Summit

The World Shifts

New partnerships are forming in the global community. Source: Reuters [M]

There was no Magna Charta signed in Hamburg. In a world filled with unrest and disparate economic interests, no one expected grand deals.

But even the mini-compromises achieved in free trade and climate change appeared shaky.

The German chancellor didn’t fall in line behind the US president. In the final communiqué, Angela Merkel tended to muddle through all the contentious issues in her usual manner. The prime objective of the summit’s host was a joint declaration that all could gather behind.

So there was a firm commitment to free trade and to combating protectionism, but there was also a mention of “the role of legitimate trade defense instruments,” meaning anybody can do what they think right.

One blessing is that Germany’s economic strength and trade surplus, which Mr. Trump has attacked so sharply before, was not raised as a contentious issue.

There was no movement in the entrenched sides with climate protection. The US is going to drop out of the Paris climate accord, while the other 19 remain committed to the agreement. But even this front is crumbling. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan doesn’t want to ratify the agreement.

Politics starts with an assessment of the realities. That just happens to include an incalculable US President Donald Trump, a calculating Russian President Vladimir Putin, and a Turkish head of state running totally out of line being almost too much for even Ms. Merkel to handle. The infernal trio of world politics has run Ms. Merkel aground and forced her to walk a tightrope.

But her diplomatic balancing act isn’t without its risks. The message Mr. Trump is receiving is that he is winning with his uncompromising manner in the club of the most powerful heads of state and government. Nobody is getting in the way of his America First policy. This will be the tone for all the coming summit meetings.

There is now no significant international meeting where Ms. Merkel has not first consulted with the Chinese president.

But as soon Mr. Trump isolates himself from the global community, the other global players will seek to reposition themselves. New partnerships will form, based not on isolation but focused on a liberal economic order.

The Franco-German axis of Ms. Merkel and President Emmanuel Macron is working. Joining this duo is the Canadian Justin Trudeau, who doesn’t want to isolate individual nations but is lobbying for free markets. Even more important are the close ties with Xi Jinping. There is now no significant international meeting where Ms. Merkel has not first consulted with the Chinese president.

The German economy is certainly feeling the benefits of this relationship. The Chinese government awarded major contracts to Airbus and Siemens before the G20 summit. When was the last time such symbolic images were seen from the USA? Indeed, the free trade compromises painstakingly hammered out in Hamburg could be obsolete this week if Mr. Trump imposes penalty tariffs on steel imports and the EU takes retaliatory measures. If he does, there will be talk in Europe of a trade war, not with China but with the country we had thought was our closest ally.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin delivered another surprise at the summit. After an exchange lasting more the two and one half hours, the two men emerged in a friendly mood. We’ll see how long this new bromance lasts. All in all, old alliances are being revived and new relationships formed. That may be unfamiliar in a world full of unrest and belligerent countries like North Korea, but doesn’t have to be the worse of things.

The violent pictures from Hamburg that went viral around the world were terrifyingly appalling.

It isn’t completely off track to speak of a government failure to deal with a leftist mob. The knee-jerk reaction was to point the finger of blame at Ms. Merkel and Hamburg’s mayor, Olaf Scholz. This is true to some extent, but the violence was carried out by criminals on the street. The political community can hardly let them dictate where they will meet in the future. The suggestion by the Social Democrats chancellor candidate, Martin Schulz, to only hold the G20 summit in the UN building in New York in the future, does sound a bit odd.

Apparently, as German chancellor, Mr. Schulz would rather hide from a confused violent minority than take a stand. Mr. Schulz was standing on the sidelines of the summit’s playing field anyway and was forced to watch Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel stole the show from him with several successful appearances. In the coming weeks, there needs to rather be a discussion about how a police strategy can be developed to prevent such occurrences in the future.

It is hard to say today whether the riots will have an impact on the upcoming German parliamentary elections. The pictures of a left-wing mob that would not stop at committing criminal acts will certainly leave a lasting impression on the German citizens. The chaos of Hamburg will be talked about for a long time to come.


The author is bureau chief in Berlin and head of the politics section. He can be reached at sigmund@handelsblatt.com


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