The German city of Hamburg has just finished hosting what some observers described as a “fractious” summit of the leaders of the world’s leading industrialized and emerging economies, known as the G-20. Combined, this diverse group of nations — which includes the US, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, South Africa and Turkey — accounts for about 80 percent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) and two-thirds of its population.
The G-20 was formed in 1999 after the Asian financial crisis as a forum for finance ministers and central bankers to discuss ways to address challenges to global economic growth, international trade and regulation of financial markets. It has since become an annual summit of the heads of state of member nations that garners much attention from supporters and intense scrutiny from detractors. This year’s meeting was no exception.
As has been the case in years past, some of the G-20’s left-leaning critics gathered outside the venue in Hamburg to express their disapproval of the gathered leaders’ policies and what the meeting symbolizes. To these critics, the meeting perpetuated a global financial “capitalist” system, which they blame for a host of global problems, especially economic inequality between nations.
Right-wing critics also see the forum as pushing a “globalist” agenda, as opposed to their nationalist agenda that sees the world as dominated by competition, not cooperation. While some groups protested in Hamburg peacefully, others clashed with security personnel, looted stores and destroyed property. Some 200 officers were injured after two days of clashes. Police arrested at least 19 people and detained many more.
While some critics often portray the summit as merely a “photo op” for gathered leaders, supporters credit it with implementing concrete measures that rescued the global financial system when it was in freefall in 2008.
According to the renowned American Council on Foreign Relations, in 2008 and 2009 G-20 nations “agreed to spending measures worth $4 trillion to revive their economies, rejected trade barriers, and implemented far-reaching reforms of the financial system.” A forum that encourages cooperation and multilateral solutions to problems that have global implications is a commendable effort, supporters say.
The hosting of the summit by Saudi Arabia in 2020 is yet another indication of the important role the Kingdom is playing in helping advance international cooperation on various fronts.
This year’s summit was the first for US President Donald Trump, and much of the attention it garnered was focused on him and his administration’s policies. His decision to withdraw from the Paris accord on climate change earlier this year represents a departure from the policies of his predecessor Barak Obama.
The final communique issued by the G-20 noted this change in policy, and while renewing a key anti-protectionist pledge, for the first time it stressed countries’ right to protect their markets with “legitimate trade defense instruments.”
It is not unusual for meetings that take place on the sidelines of the summit to become the focal point of attention. That was the case as Trump met for the first time with Russian President Vladimir Putin. They met for more than two hours. While their pre-meeting handshake became the subject of debate between body-language experts, the substance of their discussion was also the subject of intense interest.
That was particularly the case given the determination of US intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in last year’s presidential election. Asked by reporters about this, Putin said: “When possible, I answered his (Trump’s) questions in detail. I got the impression my answers satisfied him.”
The two leaders also appeared to make progress on de-escalation in Syria. At a press conference after their meeting, Putin said: “This is painstaking, even tedious work, but it is extremely important.” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described the meeting as a “robust and lengthy exchange,” and said Trump and Putin “connected very quickly” with “very clear positive chemistry.”
Saudi Arabia was represented at the summit by Minister of State Ibrahim Al-Assaf. Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir met with his US counterpart Tillerson on the sidelines. The hosting of the summit by Saudi Arabia in 2020 is yet another indication of the important role the Kingdom is playing in helping advance international cooperation on various fronts.
• Fahad Nazer is an international affairs fellow with the National Council on US-Arab Relations. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, CNN, The Hill and Newsweek, among others.