You would never know from critics in the press, but something good happened at the G20 in Osaka, Japan this week. Yes, a joint “communique” was duly signed, cheerfully non-comital language, to which all subscribed. That was standard fare. But more significant things happened – in front and behind cameras.
Critics have denounced this collegial but American-dominated G20. They have called it the end of multilateralism, end of a rules-based world (I kid you not), and effectively end of time. Luckily, this came before the ominous “12 years to the end world” mark that congressional alarmist AOC has given us to wrap up world affairs.
More seriously, critics cannot get their minds around the shift – a course correction – in global trading policies and practices. They abhor President Trump’s unwillingness to accept pre-made anti-US trade agreements, penchant for recrafting bilateral accords, use of “carrots” (economic incentives) and “sticks” (tariffs and sanctions), withdrawal from pointless multilateral agreements, and leveraging security with economic power.
More specifically, referring to the G20, missionaries of hate-less-ness hate an American President who dares call out international cheaters, gamers of the international trading system who masked redistribution of wealth as climate manipulation and manipulated currencies using communist obfuscation.
In a phrase, they are “put out.” Why? Because for the first time in half a century, an American President is saying what that bold TV anchor in the 1976 move Network encouraged Americans to say: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.” Such uncouth words singe tender ears – particularly those not interested in being called out.
Said say the G20 summit was “the biggest threat” to “multilateralism … since World War II.” Said others, what lies “at stake is the future of the multilateral trading system and global economic cooperation.” Others say Trump is a “global hegemon” and “tearing down the rules” challenging global supremacy. Goodness sakes alive, as my old relatives used to say.
Here is another take: People – particularly Americans, but not just Americans – are sick of global elites dictating terms, managing money poorly and unaccountably (including at the UN), talking them down, and allowing runaway unfairness in places like China, which coerces proprietary secrets for market participation, steals patent-protected intellectual property, shifts currency value to favor their state-run companies, launders investment through third-countries to skirt WTO rules, and ignores how all this affects life elsewhere.
This is the same country at social war with religious minorities, bashing protestors on the streets of Hong Kong (who wants personal liberties), claiming independent Taiwan as its own, fundamentally ignoring human rights, from life and property ownership to the freedoms of speech, religion, association, press, self-defense, fair trail, unfair search and seizure, and most of our Bill of Rights. They coerce abortions by the millions (especially of girls) and regulate how many children a family can have – formerly one, now two. Forgive my asking, but why again should we be silent?
At the G20, big things did happen. First, the need for changing trading rules was not dismissed but discussed. The event was not pretend, but authentic. Any wonder why? The World Trade Organization’s make-up, structure, rules, and prudential errors were surfaced.
Collective global disarming of America by banning use of economic tools straighten out a crooked world (e.g. condemning tariffs and protectionism) was not allowed, another first.
Explanation of America’s view on the Paris Climate Accord was permitted, including disagreement over redistributing American taxpayer earnings to the third world, poor drafting, operational ineffectiveness, legal unenforceability. Derided by some, the issue was not flushed by those who otherwise saw political and economic gain for themselves.
On the private side, fixation on slowness of a final China-US trade deal was offset by positive signs from the G20. First, the two presidents spoke, found common ground, and restarted a conscientious effort to bridge existing gaps for a trade agreement.
The Huawei security concern tied to “backdoors” into private and national security information remains tough, but the basis for compromise was offered by President Trump. Meantime, China’s awareness is high about what the US needs on other fronts. A deal may not appear tomorrow, but it is closer – because of the G20.
Then there is North Korea. President Trump offered, and the NK leader accepted, a chance to meet – first time – at the DMZ. They reaffirmed rapport and implicitly affirmed bases for prior meetings, including a denuclearization of North Korea.
Some say – as critics always do – it was a show. Surely, part of such encounters is show. But there is more. The speed of NK’s acceptance suggests several things. There may be willingness to talk, to press conversation toward future concrete steps to denuclearization, in exchange for sanctions relief.
Room may even exist for bigger gains. If the US-China discussion – between the top two economies, involving an end to tariffs, open markets, less theft, enforceable rules, a future for Chinese 5G and Huawei … included China leveraging their 90 percent stake in North Korea’s economy, something else could be in store.
A Grand Bargain is, even now, possible. It might involve a long-term commitment to denuclearizing and opening North Korea to Western and Chinese development, ending the Korean War and Chinese economic overreach via distorted trade rules, permitting forward movement by China on non-endangering Huawei deployments, even collaborative work with US providers.
China is a major, mercenary, communist and often inscrutable trading partner, as well as medium- and longer- term military threat, but there is good from talking, thinking out of the box, imagining the possible in context. Meetings like the G20 allow that – and progress.
That is why – after all the carping – that recent G20 was a step in the right direction. Better to celebrate small steps than decry what was not done. Better to have authentic discussions, honest on the future, than pretend all is well and future will take care of itself. President Trump irks people with his straight talk. There are worse things than straight talk.