Awkward Handshakes, a Truce But at Least No G-20 Bust-Ups

Thirteen years ago as the world was rocked by the impact of the financial crash, the G-20, the international forum for the heads of 19 leading and developing countries and the European Union, had its most relevant moment.

Led by Britain's then Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the G-20 moved to stabilize financial markets, helping to head off an even greater global slump.

But since then the annual get-together has been notable for its lackluster results, lack of breakthroughs and sometimes ill-tempered disunity, say analysts.

This year's gathering was no different � although there were no fierce public disputes, just British Prime Minister Theresa May's frosty handshake with Russia's Vladimir Putin. The summit was easily overshadowed by President Donald Trump's warmer handshake Sunday with Kim Jong-un at the Demilitarized Zone, an encounter that turned media attention away from the G-20.

The summit has become for many more symbolic of an increasingly fractious world where countries are struggling to patch up differences over globalization and are being roiled by unprecedented challenges to the post-1945 international rules-based trading system, say naysayers.

The G-20 was created as a forum for cooperation and the question may well be: Have we reached the point where it can no longer serve that purpose? Thomas Bernes, an analyst with Canada's Center for International Governance Innovation, told AFP.

EU national leaders present at the two-day summit in the Japanese port city of Osaka spent much of their energy on backroom wrangling over who should succeed Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk to lead the EU when their terms end in October as the president of the European Commission and European Council president respectively.

The EU leaders went straight from Osaka to Brussels Monday for more bargaining and horse-trading, although before doing so they finalized a free trade deal with South American countries that has taken two decades to negotiate and sealed another pact with Vietnam, also a long time in the making.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin used this year's event, which concluded Sunday, as a stage to announce the end of liberalism, questioning the whole order underpinning global political and economic governance. The liberal idea has started eating itself, Putin told reporters in Osaka. Millions of people live their lives, and those who propagate those ideas are separate from them. People live in their own country, according to their own traditions, why should it happen to them? he added.

And the Japanese hosts turned a deaf ear to international pleas for the country's fishermen to refrain from resuming whale-hunting this week after a three-decade hiatus � a resumption critics say is yet another example of how countries talk up the importance of international norms, but then break them.

Speaking after chairing the two-day summit, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared the gathering a success, saying leaders found common ground on climate change despite big differences in participants' views. He also highlighted consensus agreements on ocean pollution management, gender equality and global anti-corruption efforts. Although he did acknowledge that global economic growth remains low and risks are tilted to the downside, partly because trade and geopolitical tensions have intensified.

Summit organizers pointed to U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese president, Xi Jinping, stepping back from the trade war precipice � at least for now � as another G-20 achievement. But U.S. officials say the location of the meeting between the two leaders was irrelevant and was part of an ongoing dialogue that will continue for months.

A U.S.-Sino truce was declared, but there was no substantive progress made in managing the intense rivalry between dominant and rising powers, say analysts. And there was no new ground broken on climate action, just a warning in the summit communique about climate change, a promise to do better and a re-commitment to the Paris climate accord, from which the U.S. withdrew two years ago. The U.S. wrote a dissent to the communique's praise for the Paris accord.

India rebuffed the Japanese Prime Minister Abe plans for a digital economy summit, saying it will not attend and is suspicious of global rules for data flows, preferring localized rule-making. Trade protectionism was not directly addressed in a communique which took officials from the participating countries two nights of intense behind-the-scenes haggling to agree finally.

The communique merely repeated the language of the last G-20 summit, said a British diplomat. So not much progress there, he added. I suppose we can count ourselves lucky that there were no fireworks or major bust-ups, he said.

Another European diplomat said: Trump's nationalist go-it-alone approach doesn't help, but in truth much of the problem with the G-20 is that it is unwieldy, has too many members and it lacks focus. The bilateral meetings can be useful. We all face similar challenges, but we have increasingly different interests, which are coming more to the fore because of restive electorates. Last year in Buenos Aires, we agreed there had to be world trade reforms, but since then nothing much has moved.

Source: Voice of America