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    G20 leaders pose for a family photo during the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina November 30, 2018.

    Professor: There Isn't Any Outcome of G20 That Can Be Called 'Breakthrough'

    © Sputnik / Vladimir Astapkovich
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    Sputnik spoke about G20 Summit outcome to Richard Falk, Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law and Practice, Emeritus, Professor of Politics and International Affairs.

    Sputnik: The talks of G20 leaders led to a possible breakthrough on the global trading system. How likely is any progress to be achieved? Will the US be onboard with this?

    Richard Falk: I would be very surprised if there is any outcome of the G20 meeting that can be properly called a ‘breakthrough.' The leaders of these governments do not have a shared understanding of what would constitute a mutually beneficial world trade framework. Perhaps, such a consensus never existed, yet in the period after World War II, the United States leadership of the West was able to generate what has alternatively been call ‘the liberal economic order' or ‘the Washington consensus.'

    These arrangements rested on giving the World Bank and IMF a central role in stabilizing global conditions, including currency markets, and rested on a rule-based set of procedures. Since the Trump presidency, there has emerged serious ambiguities as to whether the United States, the leading world economy, was itself willing to participate in the liberal world order, rejecting the Trans-Pacific Partnership and seeking the renegotiation of North American arrangements set forth in the NAFTA agreements.

    The United States, in particular, during the Trump presidency regards world trade as sequence of transactions rather than systemically as a frame of institutions, rules, and procedures by which to regulate and facilitate trade relations. By this I mean, that the US wants now to proceed on the basis of economic advantage for itself in each policy context rather than promote an overall framework that benefits all participants in the world economy. Under Trump, the United States no longer perceives the more structural advantages of having a global trading system that provides a framework that binds together all countries that adhere to the principle of market economics.

    Of course, such a framework is only a practical possibility if there is a strong political will on the part of leading governments to proceed in this manner. It is difficult to be confident about making assessments of government intentions, but I think most governments would like to retain a systemic framework for the world economy except for the United States that wants to be able to leverage its strength in a more flexible diplomatic atmosphere. We should await the final declaration from Buenos Aires before reaching firm conclusions as to whether this cleavage is as dramatic as it now appears to be.

    G20 leaders pose for a family photo during the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina November 30, 2018.
    © Sputnik / Vladimir Astapkovich
    This is a different cleavage than existed during the Cold War when fundamental ideological differences led to dual structures for international and transnational economic relations. In that period the market economies organized their trade and fiscal relations within the liberal framework established under American leadership. The Soviet bloc of countries was neither invited to join this liberal world order nor did it seek entry, but rather maintained its economic relations based on the orientation of state socialism as tempered by Soviet leadership and the pursuit of national interests.

    READ MORE: Pundits Reveal Hidden Aspects of US-China Trade Talks at G20 Summit

    Sputnik: Meanwhile, Trump is reportedly ready to hold talks with Putin after Russia releases Ukrainian sailors. How high are hopes that the two leaders will sit down for talks in the future given the development?

    Richard Falk: It is important for Russian society to understand that Trump seems to be handling diplomacy with Russia and other countries mainly on the basis of his calculations of domestic politics in the United States. Anti-Trump forces have, wrongfully in my view, concentrated their criticism of Trump, including the apparent focus of the investigations of wrongdoing by the Special Counsel, on the supposedly improper relationship between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the 2016 presidential elections.

    In doing this, it overlooks the importance of establishing peaceful and constructive relations between Russia and the United States, remembering that these two dominant states are the world's leading nuclear weapons states. World peace depends on avoiding any second Cold War, and this reality is obscured by the focus on alleged Russian interference in the American elections and Trump's supposed collusion in this process.

    On the immediate prospects for productive relations following the Ukrainian incidents, I think it is likely that talks can be held in coming months, maybe even coming weeks. It should be realized, however, that the main American focus now is in resetting the economic relationship between the United States in China in ways that avoid a trade war and do not make either side appear to be the loser in this important confrontation. In actuality, most attention at the G20 meeting in the West is being given as to whether the US and China can agree on a political compromise, which would undoubtedly benefit the world as a whole.

    The failure to reach such a compromise could have detrimental effects on the world economy, as well as raise political tensions and risks of regional, and even global warfare. Therefore, the so-called ‘truce' agreed upon by Trump and Xi Jinping were viewed positively, an agreement to defer American tariffs on Chinese metal exports and a Chinese agreement to purchase more exports from the United States.

    It is notable that this stepping back from an economic confrontation required China to make a gesture of acceptance of the American complaints as well as deferring indefinitely its efforts to gain advantages by raising tariffs on goods imported from China. The central drama on the global stage is now how the United States and China will handle their conflicts in the South Asia islands and with regard to trade. The relationship and role of Russia, although greatly restored in the era of Putin's leadership, is still secondary except in certain limited spheres, such as Syria.

    Unfortunately, the relationship between Trump and Putin is seen by a broad spectrum of political opinion in the West as one where the challenge being posed is how to stand up to perceptions of renewed threats of Russian expansionism. This is why the Ukrainian incident is viewed as something more serious that the event itself. There is a fear, whether exaggerated or not, of Russian territorial ambitions that is used by militarist forces in the West to generate anti-Russian sentiments and expanded defence spending.

    Unfortunately, President Putin did not help those seeking benevolent relations with Russia by his seemingly joyful meeting with Mohammed bin Salmon (MBS) at the G20 meetings, the images of which was widely viewed here in the United States and treated as a cynical indirect endorsement of the gruesome murder of the Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. Trump has been under pressure to react to this murder, and widely criticized for reaffirming close alliance ties between Washington and Riyadh in the aftermath of the murder, but at least in the G20 context he has kept his distance from MBS at least where cameras were present, and avoided any personal display of friendship.

    Ukraine's Berdyansk and Nikopol (left) gunboats and the Yany Kapu tugboat detained for crossing the Russian maritime border. File photo
    Press service of border management of FSB of the Russian Federation in the Republic of Crimea
    At this point, the relationship between Putin and Trump are on the American side primarily reflections of political calculations about the effects on the upcoming 2020 presidential elections. Although still two years away, these forthcoming American elections are already shaping the behaviour of Trump on such delicate matters as relations with Russia, and the American mood definitely now favours a more confrontational approach with both Russia and China.

    READ MORE: 'He's An Adult': Putin Reveals What He Told Trump During Brief Talk at G20

    Sputnik: What is Trump's earlier move to cancel the meeting indicative of?

    Richard Falk: As I have indicated, Trump's recent behaviour is responsive to growing pressures on his leadership from within the American political system, especially the opposition associated with low popularity with the public, the prospect of a damaging report by the Special Counsel investigating Trump's alleged improper behaviour, and loss of control of Congress as a result of the recent midterm election. He is no longer seems free to pursue a policy of accommodation with Russia even if this is what he would wish.

    It is true that when he ran for president in 2016 Trump's outlook dramatically contrasted with that of Hillary Clinton on the question of relations with Russia. Many Americans then worried about a new Cold War, voted for Trump solely to avoid a rise in tensions with Russia that seems certain to have followed had Clinton been elected. At the same time, there remains a strong consensus that is bipartisan in character, and included the Pentagon and CIA, that leans toward a more aggressive approach toward Russia, even more so than toward China. It is in this general atmosphere that it is best to comprehend Trump's behaviour with regard to Putin and Russia generally.

    On the other side, it is not clear what Russia seeks to achieve during G20 meetings and relations with the United States at this point, although Moscow clearly seemed earlier to be receptive to the Trump approach, restoring normal peaceful relations with a positive political atmosphere and robust economic and cultural interactions.

    Russia could achieve a more favourable image in the world if it made some constructive initiatives such as the renewal of nuclear disarmament negotiations or the establishment of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East or the establishment of a global migration compact. Perhaps, we in the West are not aware of Russian attempts to contribute to a more peaceful and just world order, in which case a greater effort needs to be made to set forth the positive content of Russian foreign policy.

    The views expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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    trade war, G20 summit, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Donald Trump, China, United States, Russia, Kerch, Argentina
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