‘Beautiful harmony’: Trump plays nice as divisive G20 opens

OSAKA, Japan (AFP) – United States (US) President Donald Trump yesterday struck a conciliatory tone with fellow world leaders at one of the most high-stakes G20 meetings in years, despite deep divisions on trade and climate change.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appealed for unity among bickering world leaders at the start of Japan’s new era of ‘Reiwa’ or “beautiful harmony”, with the long-running trade row between China and the US threatening to overshadow the event.

“With your help, I hope we will realise beautiful harmony in Osaka… rather than highlight our confrontations, let us seek out what unites us,” said Abe as he opened the talks.

The appeal seemed to have chimed with arguably the club’s most volatile member, as Trump dialled down his previously feisty rhetoric against traditional US allies.

Fresh from describing Germany as “delinquent” for not paying enough into the NATO budget, he was effusive when meeting Chancellor Angela Merkel.

US President Donald Trump, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and China’s President Xi Jinping attend the G20 Summit meeting in Osaka. – AFP

“She’s a fantastic person, a fantastic woman and I’m glad to have her as a friend,” he said.

Merkel appeared well during the talks, a day after a second public shaking attack raised fears about her health. German officials insist she is not ill.

Likewise, Trump hailed Abe, for sending “many automobile companies” to the US, apparently heartened by a document Abe gave him showing investment into the US.

Only two days earlier, he had seemed to question the US-Japan alliance, saying that Washington was committed to protecting Japan but if America was attacked, the Japanese could just “watch it on a Sony television”.

As the meeting opened, world leaders mingled and greeted each other during the family photo with French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker whispering extensively into Trump’s ear. Trump entered with President Vladimir Putin, chatting amicably, and the Russian leader patted his American counterpart gently on the back as they parted ways.

The pair met later for the first face-to-face talks since Helsinki in July with Trump hailing a “very, very good relationship”.

The amicable meeting came after Putin in an interview with the Financial Times declared that the “liberal idea has become obsolete”, a view that met with strong pushback from European Union (EU) President Donald Tusk.

“What I find really obsolete are authoritarianism, personality cults, the rule of oligarchs,” Tusk said at a briefing in Osaka.

And despite the warm first encounters, the meeting could be one of the most explosive in years, with clashes possible over trade, Iran, and climate change.

“We are seeing rising tension over trade and geopolitics, which are downside risks,” a Japanese official said on the sidelines of the talks.