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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

What to expect at the G20 meeting in Hamburg

The highlights of the meeting are likely to be an agreement on tackling funding of extremists and terrorists and a much-watched first encounter between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

A special federal police unit stands during a visit by German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere (not pictured) at the fair halls of the G20 summit site in Hamburg, northern Germany on July 4, 2017. Friedemann Vogel/EPA
A special federal police unit stands during a visit by German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere (not pictured) at the fair halls of the G20 summit site in Hamburg, northern Germany on July 4, 2017. Friedemann Vogel/EPA

As a port city on the northern coast of Europe, Hamburg has seen its fair share of intrigue. But as it prepares to host the G20 gathering of nations there is little mystery about the likely outcome.

Angela Merkel, the long-serving German chancellor who will host the two-day summit beginning on Friday, has already said as much in pre-summit briefings. With discord between the US and almost all other members on the big issues of the Paris climate accord and global free trade, Mrs Merkel could hardly pretend otherwise.

The highlights of the meeting are likely to be an agreement on tackling funding of extremists and terrorists and a much-watched first encounter between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

Mrs Merkel said this week that she thought the new rules for cutting money flows to fund violence would have a significant impact.

Theresa May, the British prime minister, was mindful of the developing crisis over Qatar’s state policy when she spoke to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a pre-G20 round of conference calls about the initiative.

Mrs May told both leaders it was a “key issue” that the summit in Germany would show unity on tackling the scourge of extremism.

The run-up to the summit has provided an opening for Chinese president Xi Jinping to flex his country’s growing influence.

At a summit in Moscow with Mr Putin, Mr Xi on Tuesday warned that “negative factors” were affecting relations with the US.

He heaped praise on Mr Putin and proclaimed that his relationship with the Kremlin leader was the closest of any he enjoyed within the G20. ”Russia, thus, has become the most visited country for me, and among the foreign leaders I maintain the closest contacts and connections [is Putin],” he said.

Mr Xi also penned an editorial in German newspapers that claimed ties with Berlin had strengthened significantly. “The strategic character of Chinese-German relations is steadily gaining in importance,” he wrote.

International relations experts believe Hamburg could provide a watershed for China’s global role.

“President Xi Jinping is expected to assume a greater role by filling the gap left by US retrenchment,” said Sook Jong-lee, president of South Korea’s East Asia Institute.

Mrs Merkel herself will meet Mr Trump on Thursday night before the start of the summit but she has warned that no one should expect a “series of thorny issues” to be resolved.

"We know the positions set out by the American government and I do not expect that these positions will be laid aside because of a two-day trip to Hamburg,” she told the German parliament.

The issue of climate change and the US repudiation of the Paris Accord, signed under the administration of Barack Obama, has hogged the headlines.

Mr Trump stood firm against pressure not to abandon the deal when Group of Seven industrialised countries met in Italy in May. Tens of thousands are expected to protest against Mr Trump’s policies during the Hamburg summit. One group of activists has permission to paint themselves as the living dead and walk in zombie mode around the venue.

German diplomats are banking on producing a summit communique on climate change that the US will dissent from but the others will sign. But according to Christoph Bals, policy director of the environmental group Germanwatch, Saudi Arabia, as well as Turkey and Russia, may also withhold support.

Behind the security cordon, all eyes will be on Friday’s first meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Putin.

With an FBI inquiry into the Trump campaign’s Russia links and congressional pressure rising, the encounter will be minutely analysed.

“The whole world is watching them, nowhere more than those doing investigations in Washington, who are worried about possible Russian interference in US elections,” said Bridget Kendall, master of Peterhouse, Cambridge University who is a veteran Russia watcher.

“So they'll be scrutinising carefully every move, every body gesture, to see whether there's an understanding between them.”

Regional observers will keenly follow Mr Erdogan’s progress in Hamburg after months of bickering between his government and German officials. Berlin has issued a ban on Mr Erdogan holding rallies for ethnic Turks during his trip, objecting to any attempts he might make to build support for restoring the death penalty at home.

However, the Turkish leader is expected to make a speech at the Turkish consulate in the city where he will talk to his compatriots.

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