The 2019 G20 summit kicks off on June 28 in Osaka, Japan. Given the current geopolitical climate, meetings between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin — as well as between Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping — will be of particular interest.
By now, Russia’s disturbance in the 2016 presidential election is well documented. Events in Syria, lingering effects from Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Putin’s recent criticisms of the U.S. in a forum in St. Petersburg at the beginning of June, and the fallout from the disintegration of the INF Treaty have only added to the tension between the U.S. and Russia.
Last week, the State Duma, the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia, voted to suspend Russia’s obligations to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with the United States. The move comes on the heels of Trump’s decision in February to withdraw the United States from the INF Treaty because of alleged violations of the terms of the treaty by the Russian Federation.
Six years of attempted diplomacy, begun during the Obama Administration, did not resolve a dispute over the Kremlin’s development of 9M729, a prohibited weapon under the original terms of the treaty. Yet an updated treaty between Russia and the United States could be plausible, and would help ease geopolitical tensions.
And any new version of the INF Treaty should involve China. “The INF Treaty was signed when there were two superpowers. China was not included. Nor was any other country that now has such capabilities,” Stephen Kotkin, author and scholar of Russian and Soviet politics, told National Review. “The world has changed. This is not just Russia-U.S,” Kotkin said.
While China’s nuclear capabilities have increased since when the INF Treaty was signed in 1987, this is not expected to be a topic discussed between Trump and Xi Jinping. Instead, the much-anticipated meeting between the two will likely revolve around the ongoing trade dispute. China Vice Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen advocated compromise between the countries ahead of the summit, reported Reuters, and any agreement—or disagreement—between the two countries would surely affect the global marketplace. While China has emphatically stated they will not discuss Hong Kong at the summit, the still-simmering civil unrest there could provide Trump with some leverage.
Regarding Russia, the stench of the 2016 election interference still looms large. Tensions from the INF Treaty have led to some misguided assertions of a renewed Cold War. The assumption that Russia’s pursuit to strengthen itself is akin to an ambitious buildup with the intent of empire building is flawed and archaic policy. This is not to say Russia should be dismissed as a geopolitical rival; it shouldn’t. But China is perhaps the more formidable adversary. (Putin’s recent rhetoric criticizing U.S. trade policy and cozying up to China might complicate things.)
The G20 summit offers an opportunity for the Trump administration to make significant progress in its foreign-policy pursuits. While a resolution to the trade dispute with China is perhaps the top priority, working on relations with Russia should not lag far behind. Both Putin and Xi have expressed a desire to mend their relationship with the United States. The challenge will be for the Trump administration to forge a policy that is agreeable to China and Russia while not lessening American hegemony in the world.