Saturday 19 October 2019

Daniel Drezner: 'Trump made some new friends at G20, but that's all he managed'


Bring your daughter to work: Donald Trump and White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump at an event during the G20 leaders summit. Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Bring your daughter to work: Donald Trump and White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump at an event during the G20 leaders summit. Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Daniel Drezner

Last week, US president Donald Trump departed for the G20 summit by airing a flurry of grievances, ranging from the US-Japan security treaty to Chinese trading practices to Europe being Europe.

As he returned home, Mr Trump claimed a successful trip. He had one-on-one meetings with many of the G20 leaders. The Associated Press noted that this appeared to be Mr Trump's principal accomplishment at Osaka: "After meeting with Russia's Vladimir Putin, Saudi Arabia's Mohammed bin Salman, Turkey's Recep Tayyep Erdoğan and China's Xi Jinping, all of whom have authoritarian tendencies, the president invoked the imperative of strong relationships nine times in a closing news conference... 'I really have a good relationship with everybody,' he said."

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Mr Trump upped the ante on personal relationships on his next stop - visiting the Korean demilitarised zone (DMZ) and asking his pen pal Kim Jong-Un to meet him there. Mr Trump became the first US president to set foot in North Korea, and they talked for about an hour.

Mr Trump's reputable foreign policy defenders often like to say that observers should distinguish between his words and US foreign policy actions, with the latter counting a lot more. That's a bit disingenuous - words count in foreign policy! - but in this case the advice is sound. In terms of concrete deliverables, what, exactly, did Mr Trump accomplish?

Besides bringing along his daughter Ivanka to conduct official business, that is.

On China, the president agreed to a temporary truce: No new tariffs while negotiations resume. He also agreed to lift the ban on US companies selling to Huawei. In return, he tweeted that China "will begin purchasing large amounts of agricultural product from our great farmers".

Given the wide concerns expressed about Huawei's potential role in 5G networks, this was a surprising concession, albeit one that China demanded before the bilateral meeting, however.

The good news is that Mr Trump did not make the trade war worse. What was actually agreed to, however, did not seem like a big win for the US.

As for North Korea, both sides agreed to the resumption of working group-level meetings. This is good! But it is also worth remembering that despite Mr Trump's three meetings with Mr Kim, not much has been accomplished in the way of denuclearisation. North Korea has not even met the first condition of the Singapore summit declaration, disclosing a weapons inventory to provide a baseline for denuclearisation talks. Mr Kim is also still testing ballistic missiles.

As measured by actions rather than words, the principal accomplishment of the DMZ meeting was to reset matters to where they were after the Singapore summit and before the Hanoi summit.

The test will be whether the working-group meetings make any progress or flame out as they did after Singapore. Because, as measured by DPRK actions, Mr Trump has been far less successful than his predecessors, none of whom dignified Kim Jong-Un with a visit. CNN's Samantha Vinograd notes that by going to the DMZ, Mr Trump has signalled his comfort with the status quo. This puts far less pressure on Mr Kim to make tangible concessions.

It is also worth noting that as Mr Trump continues to promise great deals without actually completing any, other actors in world politics are not standing still. In the same week, EU negotiators inked trade deals with Vietnam and Mercosur.

Even as the US prosecutes trade wars against China, India and the EU, other countries are signing trade deals or lowering tariffs in ways that put US producers at a disadvantage.

But hey, Mr Trump can say that Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and Mohammed bin Salman are his friends. That's something, right?


(© Washington Post)

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