President Donald Trump and foreign leaders appeared set for a major clash at the Group of 20 summit in Japan, with the U.S. president prepared to highlight his unhappiness over trade and European leaders promising to challenge him on climate change.
Trump touched down in this port city shortly after 6:40 p.m. local time and will later head to a dinner with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison – the first of nine world leaders Trump is scheduled to meet with during the two-day summit.
But as the annual gathering began, some foreign leaders signaled they would push back on Trump’s constant defiance of international agreements and consensus.
President of the European Council Donald Tusk and President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker called climate change an “existential threat” in a letter ahead of the summit and urged other countries to act. In the letter, they restated their commitment to the Paris climate accord that Trump has taken steps to withdraw the United States from.
“We need to leave a healthier planet behind for those who follow,” they wrote. They signaled another looming showdown with Trump over climate change in just a few months, saying they want to “send a strong message” ahead of the United Nations Climate Summit in September.
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron said this week that he might not agree to a joint statement – or a “communique” – at the end of the G-20 meetings if it doesn’t include strong language addressing climate change. Trump has questioned the science supporting climate change and his administration has sought to downplay its significance in statements from internation groups or meetings. Macron said he viewed failing to address this issue as a “red line” for him during the G-20 in Japan.
Trump rode into Osaka in trademark Trump fashion – using the days and hours before his visit to ratchet up his rhetoric against allies and even his hosts, although the president levels attacks against world leaders ahead of global gatherings only to scale them back once he meets them in person.
One of Trump’s targets as he flew across the Pacific was Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose country imposed tariffs on nearly 30 products from the United States earlier this month as payback for Trump’s decision to revoke India’s preferential trade privileges. The retaliatory tariffs from India are just one of several trade disputes Trump faces heading into this year’s G-20 summit.
“I look forward to speaking with Prime Minister Modi about the fact that India, for years having put very high Tariffs against the United States, just recently increased the Tariffs even further,” Trump tweeted as he flew over the Pacific Ocean. “This is unacceptable and the Tariffs must be withdrawn!”
During his trip on Air Force One from Washington, Trump also sought to bolster his hard line immigration views at a time that he is confronting record levels of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, tweeting “much can be learned” from Australia’s aggressive campaign against refugees and posted signs used in the country, which included phrases like “No Way” and “You Will Not Make Australia Home.”
But as usual, Trump made clear his mind focused on other things in addition to the packed economic and foreign policy agenda that awaited him in Osaka. Prominent among them was the first night of the Democratic primary debates hosted by NBC News in Miami, which suffered through some technical difficulties midway through the event that Trump promptly mocked.
The president also called the debates “BORING!” as he prepared to depart Anchorage following a refueling stop.
Trump’s planned adversarial approach was clear in ways beyond his confrontational tweets and statements before he left Washington. He decided to add his hawkish trade adviser, Peter Navarro, to the U.S. delegation at the last minute, suggesting he doesn’t plan to offer many compromises over the course of his time in Japan.
One of the most highly anticipated meetings of the G-20 will be Trump’s sit-down on Saturday with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Trump has suggested that the meeting will be pivotal as he decides whether to further increase tariffs on an additional $300 billion in Chinese goods.
He is under pressure from some advisers and business executives to delay these new tariffs, but he hasn’t said how he plans to proceed.
“It’s ripe for taxing, for putting tariffs on,” he said on Fox News this week. He said he would do “very substantial” tariffs if he doesn’t cut a deal with China and signaled that he feels no pressure to back down.
At the last G-20 summit in Argentina, Trump and Xi agreed to start trade negotiations that were supposed to rewrite the economic relationship between the two countries, but those talks faltered more than a month ago. Trump then moved ahead with tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese imports and has threatened to impose the duties on the rest of China’s imports to the U.S. if Xi didn’t agree to major changes.
Among other things, Trump has asserted that China must stop stealing U.S. intellectual property, stop forcing U.S. companies to share technology, and limit Chinese subsidies for domestic companies in a way that disadvantages U.S. competitors. Trump has also insisted that China purchase more agriculture products from U.S. farmers.
Some White House aides have suggested Trump could use the Japan summit with Xi to reset talks and delay the imposition of new tariffs, but Trump has publicly been noncommittal.
Meanwhile, Trump took aim at both NATO and at the U.S.-Japan military alliance in comments shortly before leaving Washington that surely will have dismayed and upset his hosts.
“If Japan is attacked, we will fight World War Three . . . with our lives and with our treasure,” he told Fox Business Network, adding, “If we’re attacked, Japan doesn’t have to help us at all.” Japan, he said, “can watch it on the Sony television, okay, the attack.”
Japan hosted Trump for a lavish state visit only last month, during which time Trump called the alliance between the two countries “ironclad,” stronger than ever and only about to get stronger.
Tobias Harris, an expert on Japan at Teneo Intelligence, a political risk consultancy in Washington, said the Trump administration could be trying to get leverage over Japan in its ongoing trade talks and upcoming negotiations on sharing the costs of the U.S. military presence in Japan. But he argued the comments did not represent a serious threat to the alliance and were therefore not particularly effective as leverage.
“While in theory the president has the power to withdraw from the alliance, in practice, doing so would require overcoming what I expect would be strenuous resistance from the U.S. military, national security establishment, and Congress to an alliance that these actors all recognize as indispensable and good for the United States,” he said.
(c) 2019, The Washington Post · Seung Min Kim, , Damian Paletta and, Simon Denyer