If there is one glaring take away from the G-20 summit in Osaka it is this: the United States is nobody’s friend. Talks of allies, relationships, deals and friendships end where the US’s interests begin.
Take the example of the US’s closest ally, Britain. Notwithstanding all the talk of “eternal friendship” US President Donald Trump has been accused of grossly interfering in the internal politics of the United Kingdom. According to Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution Thomas Wright, besides the interference in British politics, Trump has undercut its national security, and bullied Prime Minister Theresa May.
Similarly, using the excuse of friendship, Trump is pushing India to faithfully follow the US with a carrot dangling at the end of the stick, the latest being the promise of a “big trade deal” Which friend would issue a threat on the eve of a summit like the G20? But Trump, on the eve of the multilateral meeting, warned Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi he should do more to reduce obstacles to US exports.
Unsurprisingly, Trump expressed happiness at India’s deal to purchase US-made Guardian predator drones and F-16 Block 70 combat jets besides other US equipment. Though Trump called for a “fair and reciprocal” relationship with India, the reality is far from it. India has been forced to stop purchase of oil from Iran because the US wanted it to, it is now reviewing whether to allow the Chinese technology company Huawei to conduct 5G field trials in India because Trump does not want this arrangement.
If it had been genuinely reciprocal and fair, India should have been able to tell the US to review its position on Iran, to not place impediments in the way of employment opportunities for the spouses of Indian H1-B visa holders in the US and to push for the expansion of the United Nations Security Council to include India as a permanent member along with a few more countries. Has any of this happened? Obviously not.
Trump threw in some sop by influencing the UNSC to describe Kashmir separatist group Jaish e Mohamed chief Masood Azhar as an international terrorist. The qualitative difference between what Trump is willing to do in return for friendship with India is simply too stark.
It is not just Trump but the US establishment which views the world from the view point of Washington alone. The sensitivities of other friendly countries have never seemed to matter. If the G20 has been hijacked by Trump no one need be surprised. For the US interests is equivalent to that of the globe.
Other than Russia and China to some extent, none has the prowess to withstand US bullying. The European Union, with powerful countries like Germany and France, has merely been a bystander. In the case of Iran, despite being a signatory to the deal with Tehran, the EU has been unable to influence Trump in any way. Instead, the US is forcing the EU to follow its diktat on Iran.
Or, take the case of the Palestinian conflict. The US, under Trump, has completely ignored world opinion and the United Nations by recognising disputed Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It has cut funds to the Palestinian authority and in a new peace plan is coercing the Palestinians to recognise the status quo in the region, which flies in the face of a two-state solution.
On climate change, Trump walked out of the Paris agreement and has refused to reconsider his decision despite pressure from friendly countries. One of the most important items on the G20 agenda, the issue of climate change is unable to make any progress.
The 2015 Paris deal, agreed upon by all countries including Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama a year later in 2016, calls upon nations to ensure that global temperatures don’t rise beyond two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels with a view to controlling climate change. In 2017, Trump rejected the deal, making the US the only country not to go with the global agreement.
In fact Trump has spared none. Another close ally Japan has had to face the brunt of the president’s sarcasm when he told a local American television network that if Japan was attacked the US would go to its help. But, if the US was attacked, Japan would watch it on Sony Television.
Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe, who was hoping that the G20 summit would come up with significant outcomes including one on climate change, will now have to rest content with the absence of any, thanks to his close “friend” Trump.
If there is one silver lining on which there will be global relief it is that Trump at Osaka has decided not to increase tariffs on an additional $300 billion worth Chinese imports for the time being. This paves way for talks to continue between the two sides. The fact that the world is getting used to Trump’s parsimony when it comes to concessions even to friends speaks volumes about his philosophy which is “my way or the highway”.
European Council President Donald Tusk put it succinctly when he was quoted by the Politico website as telling reporters that “The global stage cannot become an arena where the stronger will dictate their conditions to the weaker, where egoism will dominate over solidarity, and where nationalistic emotions will dominate over common sense. We should understand that we have a responsibility not only for our own interests, but above all, for peace and a safe, fair world order.”
Is Donald Trump listening?