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Conclusions from the G20 Summit

The G20 summit in Osaka, Japan this weekend saw a shift away from rules-based multilateralism towards bilateralism, a de-prioritisation of climate change, and acceptance of protectionism.

According to the academic Shiro Armstrong, the group’s role as a protector of free trade and multilateral cooperation has been undermined as leaders respond to the backlash against globalisation.

The G20 consists of 19 countries and the EU, which collectively represent around 90 per cent of the global economy. Whilst its primary aim is to maintain global economic stability, it discusses a broad range of topics from innovation to women’s empowerment.

This year’s summit, chaired by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, initially succumbed to US pressure by watering down commitments to tackle climate change. However, a compromise was reached whereby the communique stated that 19 countries would uphold their ‘irreversible’ commitments to combatting global warming whilst the US would be allowed an exemption, according to Politico. The EU was the primary opponent of US efforts to downgrade the importance of global warming, with officials talking until 0400 on Sunday morning.

In terms of trade, President Trump sought to smooth tensions with China by offering not to impose new tariffs and by easing restrictions on the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei. In return, China offered to resume trade talks and make unspecified purchases of US farm goods, Mr Trump said. 

“We’re right back on track… We’re holding back on tariffs and they’re going to buy farm products,” Mr Trump told reporters after an 80-minute meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Trump tweeted hours later that the meeting with Mr Xi went “far better than expected”. 

Mr Trump said that the US Commerce Department would assess whether to remove Huawei from a list of firms banned from buying technology from US companies, according to Reuters.

The trade-war is founded on US claims that China steals intellectual property, forces foreign firms to give up trade secrets, and subsidises state-owned companies which gives them an unfair advantage. The US also has serious concerns regarding possible Chinese surveillance of the US and its allies through Huawei infrastructure.

Mr Trump’s comments at the G20 have been sowed with confusion as Reuters reports on Wednesday that senior US officials have told the Commerce Department to continue treating Huawei as blacklisted.

In a largely unreported phenomenon, ties between India, China, and Russia were strengthened by a trilateral meeting. The meeting over the weekend was Mr Putin and Mr Xi’s sixth meeting in just less than two months. Russia and China have sought closer cooperation regarding security in the Middle East and Central Asia as well as seeking the ‘de-dollarisation’ of the international economy by increasing the use of their national currencies.

The G20 typically meets annually, with the next summit scheduled to take place in Saudi Arabia. Some critics have called for a different host in light of Saudi Arabia’s assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

This year, the G20 did not reach a consensus on whether the global community would combat global warming, promote free trade, and seek multilateral cooperation. This divided discourse solidifies the shift away from a rules-based liberal consensus.

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