World leaders have begun arriving in Argentina for the G20 summit as issues such as a trade war between the United States and China, the killing of a Saudi journalist in the country’s Istanbul consulate and the conflict over Ukraine threatened to overshadow the gathering.
Heads of state from China, Italy, Canada, South Korea, Singapore and Turkey were among the first to arrive in Buenos Aires on Thursday.
They joined French president Emmanuel Macron and Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who arrived the previous day.
President Donald Trump abruptly canceled a planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin as he headed to Buenos Aires, citing Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian vessels as a source of tension in a relationship he has fostered in the face of criticism. He and First Lady Melania landed in Buenos Aires late on Thursday.
Theresa May will become the first serving UK Prime Minister to visit Buenos Aires when she arrives, and only the second to travel to the country, following a Tony Blair trip over the border from Brazil in 2001.
France’s First Lady Brigitte Macron, French president Emmanuel Macron, Argentina’s president Mauricio Macri and First Lady Juliana Awada
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive ahead of the G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump disembark from Air Force One upon arrival in Buenos Aires
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau arrive ahead of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires on Thursday
Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and First Lady Peng Liyuan arrive at the Ezeiza International Airport in Buenos Aires on Thursday
The long-running dispute over the Falkland Islands – still claimed as Las Malvinas by Argentina, 36 years after the 1982 war – is likely to be discussed in a one-on-one meeting with President Mauricio Macri, but is not thought likely to dominate the talks, which will focus on trade.
More awkward for Mrs May could be a potential encounter with Prince Mohammed, after the UK’s condemnation of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October.
Asked whether Mrs May would be willing to shake the Crown Prince’s hand, a senior UK official said the PM believed it was important to ‘engage’ with Saudi Arabia and would take any opportunity to get across Britain’s message on the need for ‘full accountability and full transparency’ over the Khashoggi killing and an end to bloodshed in Yemen.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was supposed to arrive in Buenos Aires early on Friday, but her plane returned to Germany on Thursday night due to a technical problem.
Mrs Merkel and German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz will resume their travel on Friday, but the long flight time means they will miss the opening of the summit.
France’s President Emmanuel Macron and France’s First Lady Brigitte Macron during a visit to the Remembrance Park in Buenos Aires on Thursday
Emmanuel Macron (2-L) looks as his wife Brigitte Macron (C), signs a visitors book at the Remembrance Park, a monument on the banks of the Rio de la Plata in memory of the 30,000 people who disappeared or were killed under the 1976-1983 military regime in Argentina
France’s President Emmanuel Macron (L) and his wife Brigitte Macron (R), walk with Vera Vigevani de Jarach (C-L), a member of the human rights organization Madres de Plaza de Mayo Linea Fundadora (C) and Lita Boitano a member of Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, during a visit to the Remembrance Park in Buenos Aires on Thursday
France’s First Lady Brigitte Macron (R) is welcomed by Argentina’s First Lady Juliana Awada, at the Casa Rosada presidential palace in Buenos Aires on Thursday
The two-day summit beginning Friday is supposed to focus on development, infrastructure and food security.
But those seemed largely an afterthought amid soured US-European relations and as the US, Mexico and Canada hammered out the final language of a replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement expected to be signed Friday.
However there was no mention of a USMCA ceremony in Canadian Prime Minister’s Trudeau’s G20 schedule as of late Thursday, amid speculation he could send his foreign minister to sign instead if Trump does not lift steel and aluminum tariffs.
Michael Shifter, head of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank, said that this G-20 summit was once considered an opportunity for Latin American members Argentina, Brazil and Mexico ‘to project a regional bloc to shape a global agenda.’
But, he said, ‘that turned out to be a fleeting aspiration.’
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Argentina’s President, Mauricio Macri, with Argentina’s first lady Juliana Awada during their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Buenos Aires
Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte toasts with Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri an his wife Juliana Awada at the presidential palace in Buenos Aires on Thursday
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (L) and the Argentine President Mauricio Macri (R)pose for a photograph during their meeting at the Casa Rosada, in Buenos Aires, on Thursday
‘The fact that the G20 is taking place in South America for the first time is almost beside the point,’ Shifter said. ‘Argentine President Mauricio Macri, the summit’s host, has lowered expectations. … Now a success would be a summit meeting that goes smoothly, without any major disruption.’
Nonetheless, Mr Macron, who flew into Buenos Aires on Wednesday as one of the earliest arrivers, clung to the importance of the ideal of cooperation that the G20 represents.
‘I believe in our capacity to make the spirit of dialogue and cooperation triumph,’ Mr Macron said at a joint news conference with Macri, warning that if nations ‘close down,’ the alternative could be trade wars or armed conflict.
Mr Macron also called for international involvement and ‘complete clarity’ in investigations into the killing of Khashoggi, and said European leaders should discuss it at a meeting Friday.
Mr Macri said the matter of the killing would be ‘on the table’ during bilateral and possibly broader meetings.
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison (front), followed by his Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, steps off his plane upon arrival at Jorge Newbery airport in Buenos Aires, on Thursday evening
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa (R) is welcomed by Argentinas Foreign Affairs Minister Jorge Faurie, shortly after arriving at Ezeiza International airport on Thursday
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets participants of a Yoga for Peace event at La Rural Convention Center in Buenos Aires on Thursday
Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (C), being welcomed by Argentinian deputy Emilio Monzo, upon arrival at Ezeiza International airport in Buenos Aires
Saudia Arabia has denied that Prince Mohammed, the country’s de facto ruler, played a role in Khashoggi’s gruesome slaying at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.
But Human Rights Watch accuses him of responsibility and also of war crimes in Yemen.
On Wednesday, Argentine legal authorities took initial action to consider a request to prosecute him for alleged crimes against humanity, a move apparently aimed at embarrassing him as he attends the summit.
It is to be Prince Mohammed’s first significant appearance overseas since the killing.
Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been sharply critical of Saudi Arabia over the incident, is also attending.
‘Given the role that Turkey has played in this, given that the murder happened at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, this will be an interesting meeting,’ said Willis Sparks, director of global macro politics at Eurasia Group.
‘Just to see how leaders interact with the crown prince will be interesting – how warm they are. I expect Trump to be very warm with him, but European leaders probably are going to be very reluctant to have their pictures taken with him.’
US President Donald Trump waves before departing the White House to head to Buenos Aires for the G20 summit on Thursday
US First Lady Melania Trump and President Donald Trump walk to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Thursday
Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive ahead of the G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires on Thursday evening
Donald Trump jets into Argentina on Thursday for a G20 summit, keen to do battle with China on trade and sharpening his rhetoric against Russia over Ukraine
An expected high-profile bilateral meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Putin planned for Saturday was abruptly canceled by Trump, who made the announcement in a tweet.
The Kremlin said it had not been notified and only learned about it from the tweet.
Mr Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the cancellation means that the Russian president will have ‘a couple more hours’ for ‘useful meetings’ with G20 leaders, Russian news agencies reported.
Mr Trump was still scheduled to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, but analysts were not optimistic about prospects for a major breakthrough on the two countries’ trade disputes a month before US tariffs on Chinese goods are set to ramp up.
Shannon O’Neil, an expert on global trade at the Council on Foreign Relations, said she believes it ‘very likely’ that the tariffs will take effect in January.
‘I think this is an issue that Trump cares a lot about and is going to use when he campaigns for 2020,’ O’Neil said. ‘It used to be Mexico and NAFTA, and now it’s going to be China.’
The US, Canada and Mexico are scheduled to sign the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement that is replacing the NAFTA trade deal during a ceremony Friday.
However there was no mention of a USMCA ceremony in Canadian Prime Minister’s Trudeau’s G-20 schedule as of late Thursday, amid speculation he could send his foreign minister to sign instead if Trump does not lift steel and aluminum tariffs.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in (L) and First Lady Kim Jung-sook (C) arrive in Buenos Aires on Thursday
The foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, said the three countries are ‘very much on track’ to sign on time.
‘These agreements are massive, and a vast number of technical details need to be scrubbed and wrapped up,’ she said.
‘The fact that this is an agreement in three languages adds to the level of technical complexity, and it is on that level that we’re just being sure that all the i’s are dotted and all the t’s are crossed.’
The pact must still be approved by lawmakers in all three countries. O’Neil said she anticipates that to be ‘quite smooth’ in Mexico and Canada, but passage could be more complicated in the United States after midterm elections flipped the House of Representatives, meaning the next speaker could be Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi.
‘There are some … things in there that I think Democrats can support,’ O’Neil said. ‘But I can’t imagine having a new NAFTA is going to be Pelosi’s first priority when she comes in, so I’d expect it to be drawn out.’
It stands to be a short visit for Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, who is scheduled to return to his country for the inauguration Saturday of his successor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
On Thursday, Mr Macron also criticised protectionist stances by Mr Trump but said they have no plans for a one-on-one at the summit.
The two have increasingly clashed in recent weeks on everything from Mr Trump’s nationalism to wine tariffs.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was supposed to arrive in Buenos Aires early on Friday, but her plane returned to Germany on Thursday night due to a technical problem.
MERKEL TO MISS OPENING OF SUMMIT AFTER HER PLANE WAS FORCED TO MAKE EMERGENCY LANDING
People gather around German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Airbus ‘Konrad Adenauer’ on on the tarmac of Cologne’s airport after the plane was forced to make an emergency landing
German Chancellor Angela Merkel will miss the opening of the G20 summit in Argentina after technical issues forced her government plane to make an emergency landing on Thursday.
Merkel and German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz will resume their travel to Buenos Aires early on Friday, but the long flight time means they will arrive after world leaders start their discussions.
The government’s Airbus A340 aircraft carrying Merkel and her delegation to the G20 summit turned around after technical problems surfaced an hour into the 15-hour flight, and landed safely at the Cologne-Bonn airport.
The airplane captain told passengers he had decided to land after the ‘malfunction of several electronic systems’, but said there had been no security risk.
Merkel and other passengers initially remained on board the aircraft, called ‘Konrad Adenauer’, as mechanics inspected its brakes and several fire engines waited nearby, according to a Reuters reporter on board.
No details were immediately available about the cause of the technical issues. The German military blog Augengeradeaus reported that the plane’s transponder was transmitting the code 7600 which refers to a radio malfunction.
Later, the delegation traveled by bus to a hotel in Bonn. Delegation sources said a different government plane would fly Merkel and Scholz to Madrid, where they would switch to a commercial carrier for the final leg of the trip.
The delay will complicate Merkel’s schedule at meeting where the G20 members already expect to face very difficult negotiations on myriad issues.
Merkel, who had planned bilateral meetings with the presidents of the United States, China, Russia and India, was unlikely to arrive in Buenos Aires until Friday evening, German government sources said. It was not immediately clear which bilateral meetings would have to be rescheduled.
Scholz was grounded on the same A340 aircraft last month after an International Monetary Fund meeting in Indonesia, according to German media reports. They said the issue involved damage caused by rodents.
The French president envisions himself as a new leader of the free world and is fashioning himself at this summit as the anti-Trump – a champion of the Paris climate accord, defender of the postwar system of global trade and crusader against multinational tax evaders.
Mr Macron warned that Europe might not sign trade deals with the South American regional bloc Mercosur if Brazil’s incoming president, Jair Bolsonaro, pulls out of the Paris accord.
Taking the world stage at the G20 is a welcome relief for Mr Macron, who has faced mass protests at home over rising fuel taxes that are the biggest challenge yet to his presidency.
But his party dominates parliament and neither faces re-election until 2022.
Other European leaders at the summit are facing domestic struggles of their own.
Mrs May is fighting for political survival as she tries to pull her country out of the European Union.
Mrs Merkel is preparing to leave politics after announcing last month she would give up leadership of her party, a post she has held since 2000.
Italy’s Giuseppe Conte heads a populist coalition that is clashing with the EU and suffers internal divisions.
The ‘Baby Trump’ balloon is seen ahead of the G20 leaders summit, in front of the Congress building in Buenos Aires
Demonstrators protest outside the presidential palace, ahead of the Group 20 summit, in Buenos Aires, on Thursday. The writing on the banner reads ‘Property of the G20, who chooses?’
A figure made of recycled materials, resembling US President Donald Trump, is seen during a protest ahead of the G20 leaders summit, in Buenos Aires
Senior German officials, briefing reporters in Berlin on condition of anonymity, said Mrs Merkel planned to hold bilateral meetings with Mr Trump, Mr Putin, Mr Xi, India’s Narendra Modi, Australia’s Scott Morrison and Mr Macri.
The British Embassy in Argentina said Mrs May’s visit would be the first by a UK prime minister to Buenos Aires; the only other prime minister to visit the country was Tony Blair who went to Puerto Iguazu in 2001.
The two countries have long been at odds over the disputed islands known as the Falklands in Britain and the Malvinas in Argentina.
Outside Argentina’s congress, as many as 1,000 people gathered Thursday for a forum hosted by organisations opposing the G-20 and the International Monetary Fund.
A large inflatable blimp caricaturing Mr Trump as a baby holding a cellphone – which has appeared at protests in other places the U.S. president has visited – floated over the square underneath a light rain.
Thomas Bernes of the Centre for International Governance Innovation, a Canada-based think tank focusing on global governance, said this summit could be a defining moment for the Group of 20 – for better or for worse.
‘The G20 Leader’s Summit is at risk of falling into disarray with the summit being overshadowed by items not on agenda,’ he said.
‘The true test will be whether the other members of the G-20 will act resolutely or whether we will witness the crumbling of the G20 as a forum for international economic cooperation.’