World leaders kicked off one of their most high-stakes G20 meetings in years Friday, with rows brewing over a bruising US-China trade war and climate change despite a more conciliatory tone from US President Donald Trump. After lashing out at friend and foe alike en route to Osaka in western Japan for the meeting, Trump appeared in a less combative mood when meeting fellow world leaders face-to-face.
Fresh from describing traditionally close US ally Germany as “delinquent” for not paying enough into the NATO budget, he was effusive when meeting Chancellor Angela Merkel. “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 his host, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, for sending “many automobile companies” to the United States, apparently pleased by a document Abe gave him showing investment into the US.
Only two days earlier, he had seemed to call into 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 jostled 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. Despite the warm words in public, the meeting is shaping up to be one of the most fractious in years, with clashes possible over trade, Iran, and climate change. The most eagerly anticipated part of the meeting will be on Saturday when Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping hold their first face-to-face since the last G20, to thrash out a truce in a long-running trade war that has stymied the world economy.