Sunday 18 August 2019

Leaders clash over values of the G20 amid economic fears

Shinzo Abe: The Japanese PM clashed with China over Hong Kong. Photo: PA
Shinzo Abe: The Japanese PM clashed with China over Hong Kong. Photo: PA

Elaine Kurtenbach

World leaders attending a Group of 20 summit in Japan that began yesterday are clashing over the values that have served for decades as the foundation of their co-operation as they face calls to fend off threats to economic growth.

"A free and open economy is the basis for peace and prosperity," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told his counterparts in opening the two-day G20 meeting, which comes as leaders grapple with profound tensions over trade, globalisation and the collapsing nuclear deal with Iran.

While groups like the G20 endeavour to forge consensus on broad policy approaches and geopolitical issues, they also are divided on an array of issues.

Defying Chinese warnings not to bring up the issue of recent protests in Hong Kong, Mr Abe told Chinese President Xi Jinping it was important for "a free and open Hong Kong to prosper under 'one country, two systems' policy," Japanese officials said, referring to the arrangement for the former British colony's autonomy when China took control in 1997.

They said Mr Abe reminded Mr Xi of the importance of guaranteeing freedom, human rights, the "rule of law" and other universal values in raising concern over proposed Hong Kong legislation that would allow some criminal suspects to be extradited for trial in mainland China.

The bill, now shelved, prompted protests by hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong residents and minor demonstrations elsewhere in Asia, including Osaka.

Mr Xi is not the only leader facing a pushback from his Western counterparts.

European Union Council President Donald Tusk blasted Russian President Vladimir Putin for saying in an interview with the 'Financial Times' newspaper that liberalism was "obsolete" and conflicts with the "overwhelming majority" in many countries.

"We are here as Europeans also to firmly and unequivocally defend and promote liberal democracy," Mr Tusk told reporters. "What I find really obsolete are: authoritarianism, personality cults, the rule of oligarchs. Even if sometimes they may seem effective."

Mr Tusk told reporters that such comments suggest a belief that "freedoms are obsolete, that the rule of law is obsolete and that human rights are obsolete".

Mr Putin praised US President Donald Trump for his efforts to try to stop the flow of migrants and drugs from Mexico and said that liberalism "presupposes that nothing needs to be done. That migrants can kill, plunder and rape with impunity because their rights as migrants have to be protected".

Mr Trump has at times found himself at odds with other leaders in such international events, particularly on issues such as Iran, climate change and trade.

The schisms can vary.

At a meeting on the G20 sidelines, Mr Putin, Mr Xi and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed on the need to rely on international law, respect national sovereignty and refrain from interference in the internal affairs of other nations, Mr Putin said.

Such statements are a swipe at Mr Trump's "America First" approach in rejecting multilateral initiatives, but also draw a line against criticism of authoritarian governments like China's and Russia's.

A planned meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Xi today has raised hopes for a détente in the tariffs war between the world's two largest economies.

In a meeting with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Mr Trump said he had not promised to hold back on imposing new tariffs on China.

"I think it'll be productive," Mr Trump said of his meeting with Mr Xi. "It'll be a very exciting day I'm sure," he said.

But while prospects for a détente in the trade war are in the spotlight, many participants prefer a broader approach to tackling global crises.

"I am deeply concerned over the global economic situation. The world is paying attention to the direction we, the G20 leaders, are moving toward," Mr Abe said. "We need to send a strong message, which is to support and strengthen a free, fair and indiscriminating trade system."

Irish Independent

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