In the weeks leading up to the G20 summit in Hangzhou China expectations remained cynically low for the two-day gathering. Although the gathering is an economic conference, it was clear that geopolitical issues would dominate talks. Tensions in the South China Sea, further North Korean missile tests, no agreement between the US and Russia on Syria, and increasing challenges to globalism and free trade had all played a part in making the prospects for a productive summit dim.
As expected, geopolitics took center stage. In his speech, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated that one South Asia nation is responsible for spreading terrorism across the region. His comments leave little to the imagination regarding what nation-state he was referring to and the fact that the comments were made in Hangzhou make it obvious that Modi is hoping China can restrain the South Asia nation in question, which is an ally and beneficiary of the People’s Republic.
The tensions between the US and China came to the forefront at the start of the summit when incidents between US and Chinese officials took place at the airport. In one encounter, a White House press aide was instructing foreign reporters on where to stand as President Obama deplaned from Air Force One when a Chinese official confronted the aide. “This is our country. This is our airport,” the official declared angrily. Shortly after this, the same official confronted national security adviser Susan Rice, prompting the Secret Service to intervene.
When it was time to conduct business, Chinese President Xi Jinping told President Obama he opposes deployments of THAAD in South Korea and foreign intervention in the name of human rights. He called on the US to take a ‘constructive’ position in the South China Sea, help curb Taiwanese independence desires, and end support for Tibetan independence. So it appears that despite all of the areas where China and the US have forged cooperation, there remain a number of issues where the two sides are quite far apart.
Presidents Obama and Putin addressed a number of hot-button issues between the US and Russia when the two leaders took some time away from the summit to hold a meeting. Syria was the main topic with much of the discussion devoted to it. A US-Russia ceasefire and agreement on Syria has proven to be quite elusive and no progress was made in Hangzhou. However, Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will continue talks later this week. The primary roadblock to a ceasefire agreement is the existence of ‘Gaps of Trust’ between the US and Russian governments. Put simply, there is a multitude of reasons for either side to distrust the words, intentions and actions of the other, and little reason to trust. Putin and Obama have both hinted that hope is not lost and a new agreement could be coming within days.
The last notable highlight of the G20 Summit was North Korea’s decision to launch three ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan on the final day. The move was likely an attempt to get the attention of world leaders at the summit and remind them that North Korea is still a force to be reckoned with in Asia.