Face-palms and camel’s milk: what we learnt from the G20 summit

Image credit: Scholz & Friends

The annual summit of leaders of the G20 took place last Friday and Saturday (7th-8th July) in Hamburg, bringing together key political figures of twenty major economies with the ambition to encourage worldwide fiscal stability. Yet whilst the mayhem of protestors outside was more explicit, inside the Hamburg Messe, the city’s exhibition and trade fair centre and location of the summit, a more subtle anarchy was in progress.

The conference, rather than being an illustration of global cooperation, transformed into an exercise in political clout: the leaders were determined to follow their own approaches on current affairs; in some cases prioritising their individual issues over global matters, and failing to reach unified solid strategies. Praise for some countries’ approaches to current affairs, such as India’s business progress, was contrasted by condemnation of others’, most notably the American policy on climate change; the international discord evident even in Merkel’s closing speech.  

Reports that the Saudi delegation had demanded a golden escalator to be installed and fresh camel milk to be provided were later dismissed as false; but such claims could be forgiven for their credibility: the entire G20 process was tumultuous from start to finish, with hotel issues, questionable exchanges, and uncertain policy strategies for the future. Simmering political tensions may have been airbrushed out of the beaming ‘family photograph’, but protocol could not disguise the prolonged nature of the face-to-face talk between Trump and Putin; May’s discomfort in interactions with other European leaders; and the conflicting key objectives of all parties.

The media dissection of the summit focused on subtleties in body language and semantics, with strengths of handshakes investigated as a representation of global power; and hints of racism exposed in speeches by Trump and Macron. Though a lot of this may simply be sensational, the underlying concern of all leaders to appear a bulwark of stability on an increasingly faltering world stage led to shows of power that went beyond mere policy outlines for the future, making the whole conference dubious in its ambitions and conclusions.

Germany’s G20 presidency had chosen a reef knot for the logo of the conference, a reference not only to the maritime history of Hamburg, but also to the strength of an interconnected approach to issues. However, in the current political climate - and certainly after this summit - perhaps a noose would have been a better choice.

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