The View From Asia

Trump the outlier at G-7 summit

Asia News Network writers mull over differences between US President Donald Trump and European leaders at the recent G-7 summit. Here are excerpts.

Semblance of unity

Mahmood Hasan

The Daily Star, Bangladesh

The two-day 45th Group of Seven (G-7) summit concluded recently 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.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron abandoned the idea of a communique simply because he did not want US President Donald Trump to abruptly leave midway through the meeting, as he did at the 44th summit last year. Both leaders gave mixed signals and surprises rather than concrete results.

The Iran nuclear issue was probably the most divisive issue during the debates. Mr Trump pulled out of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) last year, and imposed sanctions on Iran. Hoping to achieve a breakthrough, Mr Macron asked Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani prior to the summit to send Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to Biarritz for talks on the sidelines of the summit.

At the press conference, Mr Macron surprised Mr Trump by saying that France will take the initiative to bring the US and Iran leaders together for a face-to-face meeting in the coming weeks.

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 lies in how European leaders can be independent of Washington.

Mr Rouhani last week said in Teheran that he was willing to meet any leader (i.e. Mr Trump) to resolve the stand-off with America.

While replying to questions, Mr Trump praised the people of Iran and said that Washington was not looking for leadership change in Teheran. He indicated that a meeting with Mr Rouhani was “possible” if the Iranian government behaved responsibly.

On the trade war with China, Mr Trump denied that it was an issue at the meeting, though all other leaders of G-7 wanted the issue to be resolved quickly. Interestingly, though China came up for long discussions, there was no Chinese delegation at the meeting.

Negotiations between the United States 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.

Interestingly, Mr Trump spoke of inviting Russia back into the G-7 to make it G-8. Russia was a member of this forum (1997-2014) 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 Mr Vladimir Putin.

Flamboyant British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, after a meeting with Mr Trump, said that he had high hopes of 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.

One has to wait and see whether Mr Johnson survives till Oct 31, when Britain has to leave the EU.

On Hong Kong, the G-7 reaffirmed the importance of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration and called to avoid violence. It was a summit of debates, but no concrete decisions.

Did Trump get the key message?


China Daily, China

The US leader has not been happy to be seen as an outlier among other leaders attending the G-7 summit in Biarritz because of his different stance on issues such as the Iran nuclear deal and climate change, which made it impossible for the world’s major industrialised countries to unite around common goals. But then he prefers to talk rather than listen.

The European economy faces dim prospects, with Germany already on the brink of a recession and a possible no-deal Brexit set to bring even more chaos. The trade war between China and the US has only worsened the situation.

That is why, just before the start of the G-7 summit, European Council president Donald Tusk said that “trade wars will lead to recession” while stressing that the Sino-US trade confrontation would be really risky for the whole world.

Even Mr Johnson told the US leader that “we don’t like tariffs on the whole... We are in favour of trade peace”.

Rarely have European leaders spoken with such unity on an issue. Hopefully, the message that “no one wins in a trade war”, has been received, since the US leader said on Monday that the two sides will begin “serious negotiations” soon.

Let us hope his talks with the European leaders have helped the US leader appreciate that a trade deal is in everyone’s best interests, the US included.

Strive to maintain G-7’s significance


The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan

The G-7 summit meeting of major countries has ended.

The declaration issued by their leaders was as simple as a total of five items.

With regard to trade, the declaration only affirmed principles such as “open and fair world trade”. The latest document signified a major retreat from last year’s declaration, which emphasised “fighting protectionism”.

A great gap exists between European leaders and US President Donald Trump.

European leaders place importance on the issues of free trade and climate change, while Mr Trump has touted the “America First” policy and made little of international cooperation.

During the latest meeting, one G-7 leader after another expressed concerns about a slowdown in the world economy due to the intensifying trade friction between the US and China. However, no specific message was issued by the G-7 group. It was clear that the G-7 nations do not want to offend Mr Trump, as they have trade issues with the US.

The latest declaration incorporated the need of overhauling the World Trade Organisation, as well as “calls for violence to be avoided” over the situation in Hong Kong.

Next year’s summit meeting will be held in the US. Mr Trump has indicated his intention to bring Russia back to the group, ending the exclusion of that country from the talks. If Russia returns while the situation remains unchanged, it may mean the G-7 nations have accepted Russia’s action of changing the status quo by force.

It is essential to bind Mr Trump to a framework of international cooperation while also preventing a change in the nature of the G-7 countries.

• The View from Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times’ media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 24 news organisations.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 01, 2019, with the headline 'Trump the outlier at G-7 summit'. Print Edition | Subscribe