These are the tales of two summits, mired in mayhem, madness and staged-managed showmanship. ‘Farce’ was the only word to describe the shambolic aftermath of the Group of Seven meeting in Quebec at the weekend, captured by a snapshot of history.
Leaning sternly over a table, Germany’s imposing Chancellor Angela Merkel resembled an irate schoolmistress as she appeared to lecture Donald Trump on the art of realpolitik. Sitting arms-crossed, with an expressionless stare, the United States President looked as if he had been told to write 100 times, “I must not disrupt the G7 class.”
But then, this was reality TV at its finest, with Trump playing the role of the surly houseguest. In the end, the summit disintegrated into disarray, agreeing only to disagree.
More than 10,000 kilometers away at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation gathering in the Chinese port city of Qingdao, President Xi Jinping’s opening speech was a choreographed piece of theater as he talked about “harmony … and the pursuit of dreams.”
During the five-minute address, there was not a stern-looking teacher in sight.
Still, while it was big on superlatives and short on substance, it failed to match the high-octane atmosphere hanging over the Quebec luxury resort of La Malbaie.
At the heart of this squabble between allies were trade tariffs and that final G7 communique, which was crafted by the leaders of the US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom, with representation from the greater EU bloc.
No sooner had it been released, Trump abruptly rejected it before launching verbal volleys at Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who had hosted the event.
Safely on board Air Force One en route to Singapore for his historic summit with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un on June 12, he served up a Twitter broadside after picking apart Trudeau’s remarks at a news conference.
“Based on Justin’s false statements at his news conference, and the fact that Canada is charging massive Tariffs to our US farmers, workers and companies, I have instructed our US Reps not to endorse the Communique as we look at Tariffs on automobiles flooding the US Market!” Trump tweeted.
“PM Justin Trudeau of Canada acted so meek and mild during our @G7 meetings only to give a news conference after I left saying that … he ‘will not be pushed around.’ Very dishonest & weak.”
The remarks that caused offense came after Trudeau told the media that Trump’s decision to invoke national security concerns to justify US tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum were “insulting” to Canadian veterans who had fought alongside their American allies in countless conflicts.
“It would be with regret but it would be with absolute clarity and firmness that we move forward with retaliatory measures on 1 July,” Trudeau said. “Canadians are polite and reasonable but we will also not be pushed around.”
After Trump’s tirade of tweets, Trudeau’s office issued a brief statement: “We are focused on everything we accomplished here at the G7 summit. The Prime Minister said nothing he hasn’t said before – both in public, and in private conversations with the President.”
Earlier, there were hopes that a compromise on trade tariffs, which have affected Canada, the EU and Mexico as part of the White House’s “America First” policy, had been reached, despite a fraught two days.
Merkel and France’s President Emmanuel Macron had appeared at one stage to have persuaded Trump to agree to plans for establishing “a dialogue on trade” between the US and the EU after a series of hard-bargaining sessions. But that now looks extremely unlikely.
In the communique, the G7 agreed to “free, fair, and mutually beneficial trade” and the importance of fighting protectionism. “We strive to reduce tariff barriers, non-tariff barriers and subsidies,” they said.
Yet before stepping aboard Air Force One, Trump was on the warpath. He made it clear he would block countries from gaining access to the US market if they retaliated to tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.
“The European Union is brutal to the United States … They know it,” he said in his departing news conference. “When I’m telling them, they’re smiling at me. You know, it’s like the gig is up.”
European officials later reported that the US President had tried to tone down down the language in the draft communique on the “WTO and rules-based trade” issue, but allowed it to be included in the official statement.
“For us, it was important to have a commitment to rules-based trade,” Merkel said before the communique row erupted.
Tempers were already frayed before the G7 summit had even taken place when Trump announced that Russia should be readmitted into the annual talkfest.
“Russia should be in this meeting,” he told reporters on Friday before leaving Washington for La Malbaie. “They should let Russia come back in, because we should have Russia at the negotiating table.”
This triggered consternation from the other Western leaders with the comments failing to impress Merkel.
“We are in agreement that a return of Russia to the G7 cannot happen unless substantial progress is made in terms of the problems with [the] Ukraine,” she told the media, referring to the decision to suspend Russia from the group in 2014 after its annexation of Crimea from the Ukraine.
After that, the summit descended into the realms of a Marx Brothers’ slapstick movie.
Across the Pacific, the mood was more cordially in Qingdao for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting between China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, as well as an array of observer states, and “dialogue partners.”
The scene was set with Xi’s opening address on Sunday, outlining his SCO vision of “equality and mutual respect.”
“It is from here that many ships set sail in pursuit of dreams,” he said, referring to the ancient port city of Qingdao. “Tomorrow, we will hold the first summit of the SCO after its expansion and draw up a blueprint for its future growth.
“The Qingdao summit is a new departure point for us. Together we hoist the sail of the Shanghai spirit, break waves and depart on a new voyage for our organization,” he added.
“No matter what fluctuations there are in the international situation, China and Russia have always firmly taken the development of relations as a priority,” Xi told Putin at the start of their formal talks in a reference to Russia’s strained relations with the West.
“President Putin is the leader of a great country who is influential around the world. He is my best, most intimate friend,” Xi gushed.
As for the main event, closer economic cooperation was the key topic on the agenda with “at least a dozen agreements expected to be signed” during the two-day event, China’s official news agency Xinhua reported.
At the G7, they managed to sign one, and that does not appear to be worth the paper it is written on unless Merkel and Macron can change Trump’s mind.