Expectations High for Upcoming G-20 Summit

All eyes will be on Argentina as world leaders have important issues to resolve
November 21, 2018 Updated: November 21, 2018

WASHINGTON—Bilateral talks will dominate next week’s Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Argentina, as President Donald Trump is set to meet the leaders of China and Russia and, potentially, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.

World leaders will meet at the 12th G-20 summit in Buenos Aires on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. The agenda of the summit will center on the topics of the future of work, infrastructure, and creating a sustainable food future. The bilateral meetings, however, will take center stage at this summit, according to experts.

Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping are set to meet on the margins of the summit. The exact timing hasn’t yet been announced.

Negotiations between Washington and Beijing have intensified ahead of the meeting. While Chinese officials sent the Trump administration a list of 142 concessions, the commitments fall short of the type of key structural reforms that Trump has been demanding, such as ending intellectual-property theft and forced joint ventures.

Trump told reporters last week that the trade concessions offered by the Chinese officials were “not acceptable.”

“They sent a list of things they are willing to do. A large list. It’s not acceptable to me yet,” he said, adding that the list didn’t include “four or five” key items that need to be resolved. Trump, however, expressed his optimism about reaching a deal with China at the G-20 meeting.

“I think we will have a great relationship with China. Hopefully, we’ll make a deal. And if we don’t, we’re doing very well just the way it is right now,” he said.

The United States has levied duties on roughly $250 billion worth of Chinese goods this year. The tariffs will be raised to 25 percent from 10 percent on January 1, 2019. Washington may impose tariffs on an additional $267 billion in Chinese goods if no deal is reached.

‘Long and Thorough Meeting’

The main event after Trump’s meeting with the Chinese leader will be a discussion with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin is expecting a “long and thorough meeting” between the two leaders. Although the agenda is still not very clear, the focus will be on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, said Heather Conley, senior vice president and director of Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Trump earlier announced his intention to withdraw from the INF, which was signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987. Russia has been in material violation of the treaty for at least four years, according to Washington.

Besides the INF, the leaders are expected to discuss Syria, North Korea, and Iran.

The list of issues between Washington and Kremlin is getting longer, according to Conley, as Russia continues to “play its role of global spoiler.” There are concerns about Russian malign influence in Europe, violation of sanctions vis-à-vis North Korea, and an uptick in Russian activity in Africa, in Latin America, and Cuba.

However, it isn’t clear whether Trump will raise some or all of these issues during his bilateral meeting with the Russian leader, she said.

Saudi Crown Prince

G-20 has become a big deal for Saudi Arabia, as the country will host the summit in 2020.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will represent Saudi Arabia this time. The news came as a surprise since the summit was delegated to a Saudi minister last year.

The government of Argentina confirmed the crown prince’s plan to attend but noted that he may still change his mind.

“This is a really big deal because this represents the Saudis’ normalizing the crown prince’s role after the crown prince has had a very low profile,” said Jon Alterman, senior vice president and Middle East program director at the CSIS.

Prince Salman would face world leaders for the first time since the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“The crown prince is betting that he can use this as a sign that he’s back in power, back in control, and that the worst effects of the Khashoggi affair are over,” Alterman said.

It isn’t yet clear whether Trump or other leaders will hold bilateral meetings with the crown prince.

The G-20 summit was initiated by finance ministers in 1999 and was elevated to the leaders level during the global financial crisis in 2008. Together, the G-20 countries represent 85 percent of the global gross domestic product.

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