The G20 Meeting
Can there be any question that the G20 meeting in China was not “a success”? The length of the communiqué (7000 words!) and the policies approved might seem to establish it was (see G20 Communiqué). Indeed, it is difficult to find anything missing from the endorsed policies. But one wonders how the discussion of them by 20 leaders could possibly have been covered in the two days and whether any of those endorsed policies will replace those currently being implemented at home. All the more so given that there were numerous important bilaterals on the sidelines.
Perhaps the most interesting of those for us outsiders was the 90 minute “huddle” between Obama and Putin, with the photo of them published in The Australian and the suggestion that their dark faces meant they were engaging in a “double-chested shirt-fronting” (see Obama meets Putin). What was clear is that Putin again had a “win”. Obama tried to explain that there are “gaps in the trust” between countries but failed to indicate what he is going to do about Russia siding with Assad in Syria while the US is siding with Syrian rebels and the Kurds. Some will remember that early on Obama said Assad had to go but, with his no troops on the ground policy, he did nothing much about it.
Other (separate) reports suggest that Russia may be interfering in the US Presidential election by hacking Democrat material and disrupting the electoral system. The latter have not performed well in previous elections. One report suggests that Putin would like to have Trump win because this would weaken the US.
Obama also had a bad G20 experience with the Chinese. In failing to provide him with stairs to leave his plane Chinese President Xi gave him what might be regarded as a farewell message (“bring your own stairs”). Separately, Xi also arranged a gathering of ships at Xi’s “South China” sea bases to coincide with the G20 meeting while, at the same time, North Korea sent off another warning by despatching three missiles into the Japan sea (one wonders what happens if one of NK’s missiles hits Japan, accidentally of course!). There has been a suggestion that NK was encouraged by China to take such action. Philippine President also joined in by describing Obama as a son of a whore.
Whatever, Obama is being treated (by China and others) as a “lame” President and is being recognised as a President who frequently did not do what he said he would.
Unlike Abbott’s threat, Turnbull offered no shirt-front when he reportedly told Putin that those responsible for shooting down the Malaysian airline should be brought to justice. We do not know what Putin’s response was (he should accept responsibility of course) but he did say apparently that Syria required a “political” solution, which would of course include Russia. While it is difficult to find exactly what Turnbull had to say, he appears to have made some comments which are questionable or inconsistent with policies actually adopted on the home front. For instance, while indicating that Australia expected that China should act lawfully in the South China sea dispute, he was reported as saying “we are a thoroughly independent nation. And we don’t have to choose between China and the United States” (the ANU’s Hugh White, who is reported as having advised Turnbull before he became PM, has advocated entering an agreement with China!). Turnbull has so far refused to send an Australian ship through the South China sea which is legally open to traffic. While also supporting free trade and indicating that “protectionism is not a ladder to get us out of the low growth path”, Turnbull omitted to mention the protectionist measures Australia has taken under his regime.
This is of course one of the problems with such international conferences: leaders say one thing at the conference but in practice do something different. I remember helping draft a free trade type speech for Malcolm Fraser to give at a Commonwealth conference held in Nigeria but MF did not follow through at home.
What can be selected from the communiqué? Fortunately, there are no growth or employment targets. But Turnbull will be able to draw on the wide range of policy options when seeking support for domestic policies. It is said, for example, that ”innovation is a key driver” and the launch of the Hangzhou Action Plan is said to have “updated our growth strategies”. There is also support for “international tax cooperation to achieve a globally fair and modern international tax system and to foster growth, including advancing on-going cooperation on base erosion and profits shifting (BEPS)”.
However, climate change and the Paris agreement do not rate a mention until a short para 43 of the 48 para communiqué. The agreement obligates states to take concrete measures to curb emissions that supposedly contribute to higher temperatures. It takes effect once at least 55 nations accounting for at least 55 percent of global emissions ratify it. Only 23 countries, accounting for 1.08 percent of emissions, had done so prior to the G20. Presumably the media report that Xi and Obama signed an agreement to reduce emissions will be counted even though, legally, the US has to have Congressional approval.
Clinton’s Health/Emails & Her Polling Down
Clinton’s health problems continue to be a focus in the Presidential election and, with the further release by the FBI of 58 emails sent while she was Secretary of State, the national average polling in her favour has fallen from 6 to 4 percentage points. Those who look on her unfavourably have increased by 7 points to 59 percent, with Trump on 60 per cent (see Clinton Emails 6 Sept 2016). CNN (which favours Clnton) has today released a poll showing Trump ahead by 2 percentage points. If this is sustained it will be interesting to hear the reactions of world leaders and in particular those who continue to support the dangerous warming threat.