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Expectations Running High for a Stormy G20 Summit in Osaka




The G20 summit is set to take place on Friday and Saturday, June 28 and 29, in Osaka, along with the first major typhoon of the Reiwa Era, making the arrival of international leaders a particularly stormy one. Still, expectations are running high. 


Throughout the day on Thursday, June 27, various international leaders rolled into the Kansai region’s three major airports, the busiest of which was the Kansai International Airport in Osaka. 


The Japanese Foreign Ministry estimated 6,000 journalists had converged in the area to cover the summit. 



India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi landed Thursday morning, followed by China’s President Xi Jinping, who landed amid pouring rain. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May landed just before 6 P.M., and United States President Donald Trump arrived about an hour later. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was already in Osaka to meet his guests.



What’s On The Agenda?


World leaders had a full two days of discussions ahead of them. The four sessions are: the global economy, innovation, disparities and infrastructure, and climate change.


The G20 decisions are not legally binding but they call for collaboration. They provide an opportunity to measure the pulse of the international community, ending with a Leaders’ Declaration, which, it is hoped, will include consensus on how to deal with the global economy, the rising digital society, and the ravages of marine plastics.



This is the first time Japan will host the G20, so Prime Minister Abe has been looking for ways to put his own spin to the proceedings.


Just before leaving Tokyo at 9 A.M. Thursday, he told the press, “People tend to focus on confrontation, but Japan wishes to seek points in common.”


The Prime Minister specified that he plans to bring attention to World Trade Organization reform, as well as to the digital economy, technology, the environment, and womens’ empowerment, among other things. 



Side Talks



Bilateral talks began early on Thursday, with Prime Minister Abe meet with two leaders of the EU, European Commission President Donald Tusk and European Council President Jean-Claude Junker, just before noon. 


Later in the day there were talks with the leaders of Egypt, Argentina, Senegal, Indonesia. But the highlight came in the evening with the first bilateral talks on Japanese soil with China’s President Xi.  



The Challenges


Osaka itself almost seemed in a frenzy, with security concerns shutting down many roads and amenities, disrupting travelers by rail and car as well as by air. Exponents from 20 different countries and international organizations are set to participate, and all the stops have been pulled on security and in preparation of a successful agenda. 



The G20 was born in the aftermath of the 2008 economic collapse known as the Lehman shock, as an effort to boost international cooperation. Since then, the global economy has vastly changed and some have argued the impetus for collaboration isn’t the same. 


Nevertheless, the trade war between the U.S. and China has had widespread repercussions and is a point which many are hoping will find some degree of resolution in Osaka. 


Denis Hew, director of the Policy Support Unit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Secretariat, spoke at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on May 24 in the lead-up to the summit. He said that the U.S.-China trade war was “reeking-havoc” across the world. “Just by the fact that two had a phone call, the stock markets went up,” Hew observed ruefully.


Yet even on topics with more intuitive consensus like climate change, the outcome of the Osaka meetings may not be so clear-cut. French President Emmanuel Macron, just before leaving for Osaka, said that climate change was a “red line,” and stated in clear terms that if a more comprehensive agreement was not reached to include the U.S. in the Paris Accords, then going forward on the issue in Osaka would be “without France.”




What Else Is At Stake


The summit also provides an occasion for each country to put forward its own agenda.


In the case of Japan, one pressing matter is North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens, with the victims still held by North Korea. Prime Minister Abe has brought up the issue with European Union leaders Tusk and Junker and obtained their “understanding and support” regarding a resolution of the issue, Japan’s Press Secretary for the G20 Summit, Takeshi Osuga, revealed to the media on the evening of June 27. 


Rising tensions over Iran are likely to be another key issue during the talks, not just for Japan, but for the U.S. and many of the other countries.



Bilaterally, Prime Minister Abe and Russian President Vladmir Putin are slated to hold discussions that bring to the fore yet again the issue of the disputed islands between the two countries.



The Back Room Role of Hong Kong


There are also some key issues not up for discussion but which have the potential to influence the meetings anyway. The most obvious of these is the recent Hong Kong protests. 


Demonstrations have rocked the special administrative region since June 16, when the government introduced a proposed bill to allow the extradition to China of anyone accused of a crime in the mainland, leading Hong Kong people to fear it would end their freedom of speech. 



Given the media coverage, and the size of the opposition, it might have been expected for international pressure to close on China, but Chinese leaders have made it clear they will not discuss the topic at the G20 summit.  


Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Zhang Jun told a press briefing on Monday, June 24, that the G20 usually discusses global trade and economic issues and wouldn’t focus on the week-long protests in Hong Kong. “Hong Kong affairs are Chinese domestic affairs. Any foreign force has no right to interfere in this.”


While world leaders might not discuss them, there have been grassroots efforts to bring attention to China’s track record on issues beyond Hong Kong and even beyond Tiananmen Square’s 2019 anniversary. The J20, which stands for “justice,” will take place in the streets of Osaka on the evening of June 28, around Namba intersection, bringing in particular attention to the plight of Tibet, Inner Mongolia, and the Uyghur region.


Earlier in the day, from 2 PM there will also be a press conference where Rebiya Kadeer (President of the Free Indo-Pacific Alliance) and Shobshuud Temtselt (Chairman of the Southern Mongolia Congress) will explain further their aims, and what the movement hopes to achieve. The press conference is set to be held first in Japanese, then in English, at the Chuo Kaikan,  2-12-31, Shimanouchi, Chuou ward, Osaka city. 



Their manifesto reads: “We, Justice 20 Executive Committee, declare a protest against dictator Xi Jinping of the Communist Party of China’s one-party dictatorial regime who comes to Japan for the G20 at the end of June, 2019 in order to realize freedom, peace, democracy, and the right of peoples to self-determination.” Read more about the protest movement continuing also on June 29 here.



City Welcomes G20, Amid Security Shutdown


Despite the storm which barely let up during the day, the security efforts have been stringent all throughout Osaka. Early on Thursday, the Hanshin highway was closed and train routes diverted in order to secure better protection for the G20 venue, including Kansai International Airport, the hotel areas where many leaders will be staying, and the area around INTEX, the venue of the meetings.


As has become customary, police closed trash bins, storage lockers, and even banned the use of drones around the Kansai International airport.



There have also been fun welcoming events for the foreign visitors and press. A group of women who call themselves the Osaka Obachan (grandmothers) released a rap song on YouTube, welcoming people to “the funniest city in the world.” 


A restaurant in the center of Osaka specializing in yakisoba, called “Yakisoba Center,” even prepared a special stir-fried noodle dish to commemorate the occasion. The giant dish contains, among other things, 20 boiled eggs in honor of the G20. It costs ¥3,310 JPY (just a bit more than $30 USD) and weighs about 7 kg.


For curious observers, the next few days offer plenty to ponder. While the theme of the gathering is the economy, the summit offers the opportunity for countries to be held accountable on the world stage on a much broader range of global concerns, be it free speech and human rights, climate change or trade barriers.


As talks unfold in Osaka, make sure you follow JAPAN Forward’s coverage of the G20 sessions.



Author: Arielle Busetto