While President Trump insults his erstwhile foreign partners in a colorful twitter tirade ahead of a G-7 (or rather, G-6+1) summit in Quebec, exposing the very real fragmentation of longtime western partnerships as the US cracks down on unfair foreign trade practices, a productive meeting between China’s “Emperor for Life” Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin has been completely overshadowed, as Bloomberg points out.
The two leaders held their first meeting this year on Thursday ahead of the June 9 Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting – an eight-member group led by China and Russia – which will be held in the port city of Qingdao.
Please tell Prime Minister Trudeau and President Macron that they are charging the U.S. massive tariffs and create non-monetary barriers. The EU trade surplus with the U.S. is $151 Billion, and Canada keeps our farmers and others out. Look forward to seeing them tomorrow.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 7, 2018
Prime Minister Trudeau is being so indignant, bringing up the relationship that the U.S. and Canada had over the many years and all sorts of other things…but he doesn’t bring up the fact that they charge us up to 300% on dairy — hurting our Farmers, killing our Agriculture!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 7, 2018
But the west is ignoring the burgeoning partnership between the two countries – both permanent members of the UN Security Council – at its own peril. Because Putin and Xi are playing an ever-expanding role in resolving global disputes like, for example, the dispute between the US and North Korea. For example, both leaders support North Korea’s demands that any denuclearization agreement stipulate that the process happen in stages – something that the Pentagon initially opposed, though Trump has more recently said he’d be open to it.
“China and Russia have common interests in regards to the resolution of the Korean crisis,” said Alexey Muraviev, a Russia strategic and defense affairs specialist at Curtin University in Perth, Australia. “Their pragmatism is driven by the belief that it is better to have the regime that is in place rather than hope for another one.”
Indeed, the final shape of a North Korea denuclearization deal (assuming one is reached) will likely need the blessing of Beijing, if not both Beijing and Moscow, before it becomes a reality. Because ultimately both countries want to ensure that hostilities don’t break out on their borders with the North, and that US and NATO troops remain as far from their borders as possible. Already Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has assured his North Korean counterpart that any deal “must involve the lifting of sanctions” – pushing back against the US’s insistence that sanctions won’t be lifted until North Korea is nearing full denuclearization.
China and Russia have been pushing for a deal between the US and North Korea since early last year, when tensions between the two geopolitical adversaries were still high. And it’s worth noting that the deal that is taking shape already resembles a compromise plan that the two countries jointly proposed back then: That the North agrees to halt its nuclear program while the US and South Korea cease military exercises. Of course, the latter’s unwillingness to stop its threatening military drills almost scuttled the meeting last month.
It’s understandable that North Korea wants security guarantees, given what happened to the former leaders of Libya and Iraq after they gave up their weapons, Putin said in an interview with China Media Group that was published Wednesday.
“Today it is difficult to say what these guarantees may look like or when they will come into effect,” he said.
The two leaders also called the US’s decision to leave the Iranian nuclear deal “disappointing” and said it was of “fundamental importance” to protect trade relations with the Islamic Republic. China is Iran’s trading partner, and both countries have said they will find a way to preserve Iranian trade to help preserve the deal without the US’s involvement.
In a move that will likely only further infuriate his European and North American peers, Trump is planning to leave the G-7 summit early, departing at 10:30 am on Saturday, and leave Everett Eissenstat, his deputy assistant for international economic affairs, in charge of the US’s delegation for the remainder of the summit. This gives Trump only about 24 hours to smooth over trade tensions with Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau, Bloomberg reports. Trump has also warned he won’t sign the traditional concluding joint statement unless there’s progress on tariffs and trade issues. The EU, for what it’s worth, has said it has “low expectations” for a positive outcome. Tensions have been most evident between Canadian President Justin Trudeau and Trump, who on Thursday accused the Canadian leader of “being so indignant” given how Canada chooses t protect its dairy sector with high tariffs at the expense of US exports. The two leaders are set to meet face to face at 5 pm on Friday. Meanwhile, Putin has invited Kim to visit Russia after the US summit – though the North Korean leader has not yet accepted (Trump has also suggested that inviting Kim to Washington could be his next move after the June 12 Singapore summit).
As the meeting puts the fraying western relations on display, China and Russia are poised to present an image of fraternity and stability that no longer exists in the West. This will have long-ranging diplomatic implications for years to come.