G20: The hidden agenda in Argentina

Representatives from the world’s leading economies are facing major diplomatic challenges as they meet in Buenos Aires, Argentina, this week for the annual G20 summit on November 30 and December 1.

The G20 leaders “are expected to struggle to agree on a joint statement on two of the biggest, and thorniest, global issues on their agenda – trade and climate change”, says CNBC.

“It’s a club that is even more difficult to manage than the G7,” a French diplomatic source told the US-based broadcaster. “Let’s face it, the issues are difficult, the talks have been difficult since last year. It will be the case again this year, maybe even tougher”.

Economists have warned that the looming showdown between the American President Donald Trump and the Chinese President Xi Jingping at the meeting “will have significant repercussions for the global economy”, says the Financial Times.

Earlier this week Larry Kudlow, director of the US National Economic Council, said it was up to China to “step up and come up with new ideas” to break the deadlock.

“We can’t find much change in their approach,” Kudlow told White House reporters. “President Xi may have a lot more to say in the bilateral [with Trump], I hope he does, by the way, I think we all hope he does… but at the moment, we don’t see it.”

His comments suggest that Donald Trump’s plans to raise tariffs on $200bn worth of Chinese goods from January will probably go into effect unless a breakthrough occurs which is rather unlikely to happen as the American President told The Wall Street Journal last month, saying that he would be “highly unlikely” to reverse his decision.

Donald Trump is also scheduled to sit down with the Russian President Vladimir Putin for their first face-to-face meeting since July’s controversial US-Russia summit in Finland.

But this week’s bilateral is now in jeopardy following news over the weekend that Russian vessels seized three Ukrainian ships near Crimea, provoking a storm of protest in Europe.

President Trump told The Washington Post that he was waiting for a report on the incident from his national security advisers before going ahead with the talks with Putin. “That will be very determinative. Maybe I won’t have the meeting,” the US president said.

Russia’s brazen seizure earlier this week of three Ukrainian naval ships in disputed waters off the coast of Crimea presents a test that G20 members cannot ignore. Moscow has been isolated within the UN Security Council and subject to scathing criticism by outgoing U.S. envoy Nikki Haley.

The escalating tensions in Crimea have solidified Putin’s dominance in the run-up to the summit, according to Politico. “To be perfectly honest, we don’t have many options,” a senior European official told the website. “We don’t want to risk war, but Putin is already waging one. That makes us look weak.”

Among the many problematic aspects of this year’s summit, the “most disappointing, maybe, is the dramatic shift in language compared to last year’s G20 Leaders Declaration on climate change”, says environmental news site CleanTechnica.

According to Climate Home News, the new draft communique from the G20 leaders fails to back the Paris Climate Agreement, instead simply “acknowledging the different circumstances, including those of countries determined to implement the Paris Agreement”.

Speaking to reporters after the draft was leaked earlier this month, Argentina’s G20 emissary Pedro Villagra Delgado said: “Of course, we want the Paris Agreement to be mentioned, but we want it to be mentioned, encompassing everyone, albeit in an ambiguous way. The United States does not say that nothing should be done [about climate change], but that they do not want to have neither the obligations nor the goals imposed by the Paris Agreement.”

Last but not least, G20 leaders are faced with a big dilemma. Will they treat Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, who will also attend the summit in Argentina, as a pariah following the allegations of his involvement in Jamal Khashoggi’s murder? Or will they see his presence as a step of reconciliation?

A prosecutor in Argentina has accepted a request from the Human Rights Group, Human Rights Watch (HRW), to prosecute Mohammed bin Salman for alleged crimes against humanity, hours after the Saudi Arabia crown prince arrived in the country for the G20 summit. It is highly unlikely that such a prosecution could be successfully launched before the prince leaves Buenos Aires.

On Wednesday, a source said that the court had accepted the writ and a prosecutor had asked a judge to determine if either Saudi Arabia or Yemen are investigating the prince for possible crimes against humanity. If no cases have been opened in either country, HRW argues that the principle of universal jurisdiction could apply. Before that could happen, however, the supreme court would have to rule whether Prince Mohammed is covered by diplomatic immunity – a decision which would be unlikely to come before the prince leaves the country after the G20 finishes on Saturday.

The centre-right government of Mauricio Macri has said it is not concerned by the legal manoeuvres. “We don’t believe the Human Rights Watch writ will prosper,” said a spokesperson for the foreign minister, Jorge Faurie, who greeted the prince at the airport on Wednesday.

“Mohammed bin Salman is protected by diplomatic immunity and he is also travelling in his official status as representative of a foreign head of state. Besides, cases involving diplomatic immunity can only be decided by the supreme court and his visit will be too brief for it to reach the court. The case is in the hands of the court and the government will not interfere with it,” the spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, The Guardian reports that President Trump has said he remains willing to meet with bin Salman in Buenos Aires, after insisting no conclusion had been reached over his involvement in Khashoggi’s death at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Even the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was first to point the finger at Mohammed bin Salman for Khashoggi’s murder and led the charge against the crown prince, is considering a request from the Saudi government for a meeting with the crown prince on the summit’s sidelines.

The rest remains to be seen. It will be an awkward group photo though this year from every aspect.

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