G20 leaders ostracize Obama's platform
Barack Obama flew to China to attend the G20 meeting in Hangzhou in late August to stake new flags in Asia and reaffirm the role of the United States as the world’s leading economy.
He faced quite a hostile reception. China’s president and host of the meeting tried to humiliate the U.S. president while Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte crudely insulted him.
Obama went into the meeting as a president with a mission before his term ran out in January 2017. His cool eye never lost sight of his agenda as the looming shadow of the end of his second term in office figured prominently in his designs.
The G20 is an informal, yearly gathering of heads of state, finance ministers and central bank governors that has been occurring since 1999.
Xi Jinping, China’s president, chaired the G20 Summit of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors as the opening act of the August meeting.
At the meeting, Jinping offered China’s blueprint for global economic growth as a substitute for any plan offered by Obama.
From the start, the ambiance was less than cordial since Washington and Beijing still remain at odds over issues such as human rights, predatory policies in international trade and freedom of the sea, cyberwarfare, monetary policy and global warming. Little was expected to be accomplished during this G20 meeting.
The meeting at Hangzhou proved an exception in at least one area—global warming. After 20 years of contention, the United States submitted plans to the United Nations meant to reduce climate change.
On the topic of global trade, little was accomplished. China relies on exports owing to economic weaknesses in Europe and North America and its own inability to transition into a consumer society.
As for human rights, China’s position seems unequivocal—it objects to any interference in its internal affairs, especially interference from the United States.
It was precisely in the area of human rights that Duterte scornfully addressed Obama for his criticism of the new Filipino president’s policies. By the orders of Duterte, police officers in the Philippines have been murdering drug users which Obama criticized as human rights violations.
Duterte made it clear that the Philippines was no longer a colony of the United States. However, belittling a strong military ally and a country that has taken his side in the South Sea dispute against China may be later regarded as a mistake.
Moreover, Obama showed his mettle as an excellent politician and strategist. He chose to downplay expressions of ill will by dismissing them with a mere cluck of his tongue and turned his attention to other issues that could possibly reach a decision. It is always an excellent political strategy to avoid showing anger toward an idea.
Oddly enough, Obama appeared to bolster the Trans-Pacific Partnership that is currently facing opposition at home. However, coverage on this matter remains sparse or hidden in subtle details.
The gathering of the 20 nations’ leaders provided Obama with a platform to patch up holes in U.S. strategy in the Middle East and with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
After a failed coup against him, Erdogan blamed the United States for having a hand in it and for harboring the alleged plotter Fethullah Gulen.
Obama, renowned for his compromising nature and bridge-building tactics, assured Turkey of maintaining its friendship with the United States. He guaranteed that the United States would recognize that Turkey is a valuable and trusted ally and encouraged Erdogan to participate fully in the war against the Islamic State in Syria.
If relations between China and the United States are cool, their relations with Russia are subzero. Obama does not like Vladimir Putin and Putin’s feelings are mutual. Their bone of contention lies within the Ukraine, Crimea, the extension of NATO to Russian borders and Washington’s revival of the Cold War.
Obama’s initiative to reinforce the presence of the United States in Asia has roiled China much more as it energetically challenges U.S. post-World War II dominance.
Obama is abusing the fear that Asian nations have of China by mending fences with Laos and Vietnam and encouraging other ASEAN countries to withstand China’s encouragement to side with Beijing.
Obama’s last trip as president to Asia is subject to various interpretations. It is a mixed bag as shadow play of the rivalry between China and the United States plays out. After all, the real work, it seems, is done in corridors and private meetings on the side, where heavy lobbying is carried out. Time will only tell whether or not his efforts will prevail in the long run.