Winds of realism at the G-20 Summit in Argentina

Ghassan Charbel

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It was natural for the world to follow with interest the proceedings of the G20 summit that was held in Buenos Aires. There is no exaggeration in saying that the summit is like the World Board meeting. Participants represent two-thirds of the world’s population and 85 percent of its GDP.

Representatives of the globe’s greatest economies, some of which are the most influential politically and boast the most sophisticated armies, met around the table. Scenarios of pessimism were not entirely absent. There are those who feared that the summit would not even be able to issue a final statement at the end of its meetings.

While some speculated that the Buenos Aires gathering would launch a trade war between America and China, others feared that the world would be driven to a severe crisis, the intensity of which would surpass the one that led to the birth of the G20, ten years ago.

Pessimistic assumptions were proven wrong. The differences were clear on the table and involved strategies, vocabulary and approaches. But no side has shown a desire to escalate and put additional burdens on the global economy. A certain degree of realism characterized the discussions.

The convening of the summit in the country of the Tango encouraged each side to pay attention to their partner’s concerns and to the need to guarantee some harmony in their steps.

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An Arab issue attracted the attention of journalists and observers, which was Saudi Arabia’s participation through a delegation chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Some parties had suggested that the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi would lead the Kingdom to a degree of international isolation.

The same parties had exploited the murder, from the very first moment, to attack the Saudi leadership, which has vowed to punish the perpetrators. Over a period of two months, they launched a war of media leaks and rumors aimed at undermining the status and role of Saudi Arabia and its Crown Prince.

The summit of Buenos Aires was not expected to resolve contentious issues. But one can say that the winds of realism dominated the talks

Ghassan Charbel

Warm handshake

But as they watched the summit unfold, those parties surely felt frustrated and disappointed. The friendly and warm handshake between Russian President Vadimir Putin and Prince Mohammed was a clear message and stole all the spotlight. The meeting coincided with the announcement by the two leaders of the extension of the agreement to reduce oil production. Putin made sure to praise Saudi Arabia and the Crown Prince for their role in ensuring the implementation of the agreement.

Another message came from the Chinese president during his meeting with the Crown Prince. He stressed that Saudi Arabia’s stability was the cornerstone of prosperity and progress in the Gulf and that China strongly supports Riyadh’s plans of economic diversification and social reform.

The extensive meetings held by Prince Mohammed revealed the powerful countries’ appreciation of the Kingdom’s reliable role in combating terrorism and extremism, ensuring the stability of the global economy and launching an internal process of reform and modernization.

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Many things have changed since the birth of the G20 and up until its recent conference. Asia’s ascension has been confirmed and China has become the world’s second-largest economy. Russia has strengthened its political and military presence in the world, while being unable to make a quantum leap in its economy. Moreover, European-US relations have been passing continuous tests since Donald Trump arrived to the White House and the European family itself is suffering from disintegration.

There were also other transformations: the climate crisis has become more urgent and the world no longer has the luxury of delaying solutions to decades to come. Concerns are growing over the massive waves of unemployed that will be unleashed by technological development and the machine's ability to take on larger and broader tasks.

This problem has its proven effects on both stability and prosperity. There are also the perpetual worries about food production, as well as the theme of the summit itself, “Building Consensus for Fair and Sustainable Development.”

US-China reunion

The US-China reunion was one of the highlights of the discussions on the sidelines of the summit. Trump described his meeting with President Xi Jinping as “positive and fruitful”, saying it opens up unlimited fields for China and the United States. The Chinese side was keen to talk about a "win-win" situation. On the practical level, the two sides agreed on a three-month truce in their trade war that is threatening the global economy.

While Washington agreed to freeze its decision to raise tariffs on Chinese goods, Beijing decided to buy “undetermined, but very large” quantities of US merchandise. This means that Trump has given an opportunity to reach an agreement that puts an end to the trade war and that China has recognized the existence of a trade imbalance that can be corrected.

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At the US-Russian level, returning to the Tango was difficult. The latest escalation between Russia and Ukraine did not leave many options for Trump, in light of the results of the midterm elections, as many in Congress have questioned the presence of a Russian thread in the US presidential elections.

Trump had canceled his scheduled meeting with Putin, but the two leaders held quick talks on the sidelines of the summit. The master of the Kremlin seemed to understand the circumstances of the US president. He only said that dialogue was necessary and would resume when the American side was ready.

The summit of Buenos Aires was not expected to resolve contentious issues among the participants. But one can say that the winds of realism dominated the talks, giving the world an opportunity to take a breath and devote time to expanding the common perception of the global economic situation and the means to ease political tensions among member states.

This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat.

Ghassan Charbel is the Editor-in-Chief of London-based Al Sharq al-Awsat newspaper. Ghassan's Twitter handle is @GhasanCharbel.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.