Titans are conniving privately and posturing publicly

The G 20 summit in Germany Piqued puzzled or a dud Twitter/@PMOIndia
Voices Opinion Friday, July 07, 2017 - 17:30

As a gathering of the world’s top dogs go, the G20 summit currently underway in Germany must clearly be the non-event of the year. Experts will try to find text in sub texts and language they can latch on to, but I have covered enough such meets to know this one is going to be a dud. Too many clashes, too little faith in each other and an unguided missile from Washington has left many wary, worried and angry.  And it's not just the politicians I am speaking about. A record 100,000 protesters have gathered in Hamburg to demonstrate against the presence of dictators and democrats moving together seamlessly and even senselessly. 

Take Germany for example which goes to the polls later this year. There is little doubt that Chancellor Angela Merkel will win, but circumstances are such that even her massive popularity cannot tide over critical issues be they immigration or unemployment, climate change or trade.  Gipfelkoenigin in German roughly translates into queen of summits in English. That is what the German media called Merkel who, a decade ago, had managed to nudge and coax American President George W. Bush – who like Donald Trump – had pulled out of a global climate deal into supporting it with substantial cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Will Merkel now be able to bang heads and forge sensitive compromises between leaders with disparate views? Does it have to be her to take the lead or should China and Russia do the honours? France, freshly minted after a general election has a new president in Emmanuel Macron who is still to make his big pitch. Trump is the reason America has lost its leadership position in many areas and he seems in no hurry to claim lost territory without force. In an interconnected and interdependent world, what is the freedom leaders have to prosper at the expense of others?  

The trust gap is wide and Merkel is neither in a mood nor in a mode to listen to Trump this time around, having made very clear a month ago (post a NATO meet) that Europe will have to move on with or without the Americans. She is not alone. France has her back and Trump stood isolated when he arrived in Poland this week to announce that Warsaw does not need Europe as if he were in Wyoming or South Dakota. He has promised to go eye-ball to eye-ball with Russia's Vladimir Putin much to the amusement of many. Putin moves like the ultimate grandmaster with an inscrutable visage. Trump had an angry countenance this morning in Hamburg and has promised to his constituency back home that he will be tweeting regularly from the summit about making America great again. His method of work is a topic of derision as much as it is one of worry. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi too is in the city and a key agenda item for him – to meet his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping – seems to be neither here nor there.  The ‘atmosphere’ according to the Chinese is not conducive to discussing China’s belligerent inroads into Indian space and a mere handshake is not going to fool anyone. G20 meetings are lot about atmospherics and don’t get taken in by the numerous photo-ops and related activities. I am actually pleased India is not the talking point this weekend - we've been doing a lot of it these past weeks and there's a time to remain silent. If there is one message being sent to India from around the world it is that countries find India's markets it's most attractive feature and it is Delhi to play that to its advantage. For now, some silence and reflection will not be a bad idea. 

Traditional G20 battle lines were drawn between large developed countries urging developing nations to do more in terms of opening their markets, borrow more money, become more dependent on an international system of goods and services and cut back national ambitions. Hamburg is not going to rock any boat and there are reasons for this. What has to happen has already taken place in the run up to the summit. There have been hectic parleys and meetings between the heavy hitters as if they want to encircle Washington smothering it under a wave of without-USA cooperation. Japan and the European Union (EU) have signed a free trade agreement covering more than 600 million people which amounts to 30% of the global economy and 40% of world trade.

Separately, China and Russia have met to strengthen their bilateral ties and hug their satellites in different circles suggesting that there is a new cold war which has replaced the old one without any lines. Defending North Korea is one such overture hitting at the heart of the sabre rattling and war mongering all have indulged in recent weeks. There is no consensus on the middle east and perhaps the most ironical of it all is that China has now emerged as a champion of free trade pushing the envelope at every opportunity. Germany has also signed an omnibus deal with Beijing. China is deftly walking the tight rope between its inherent protectionism and the need to access Europe’s markets. Titans are conniving privately and posturing publicly. When you think that the very legitimacy of the G20 rests on openness and sustainable growth, the surge towards China is the one to watch. 

At the time of writing, demonstrators have clashed with security personnel and a 100 people are reportedly injured. This conjure up visions of the anti-globalization clashes that rocked Europe at the turn of this century with yet another circle of grave uncertainty people live with - terrorism.  This is an issue on every leader's agenda but each has a different solution to it. Moscow and China don't treat terrorists like India does, for example and Germany and France have yet another approach. Trade, climate change, national security are all trans-border issues and don't be surprised if the final declaration sounds like one that has been drawn up by trapeze artists. 

Note: Views expressed are the author's own.