Donald Trump arrived in Osaka for the G20 summit on Thursday after a 24-hour period that saw the US president attack several allies, including Japan and India, whose leaders he will meet at the two-day summit.
In an interview with Fox Business before leaving Washington, Mr Trump slammed the EU for bringing a raft of antitrust cases against US technology companies and called into question the US-Japan security alliance.
As Air Force One flew over the Pacific en route to Osaka, he focused his ire on India. “I look forward to speaking with Prime Minister Modi about the fact that India, for years having put very high Tariffs against the United States, just recently increased the Tariffs even further,” Mr Trump said in a tweet. “This is unacceptable. and the Tariffs must be withdrawn!”
His comments point to the potential for a turbulent summit that will include his first meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping following the collapse of trade talks between the US and China last month.
As the G20 leaders began to arrive in Osaka, their country representative “Sherpas” were already locked in difficult negotiations over the summit communiqué. Participants said the US was digging in over trade and that even the language used by G20 trade ministers at a meeting a few weeks ago might be difficult to agree unless the leaders are able to break the logjam. European governments are still arguing for a reference to “fighting protectionism” but few expect it to be included in the end.
The future of the World Trade Organization has emerged as a particularly difficult issue. The WTO’s dispute resolution mechanism is in danger of collapse because the US is refusing to appoint appellate justices. Europe and Japan want to address that issue but the US is demanding wholesale reform of the institution first. The US and Europe are also far apart on climate change and the environment policy, according to senior German officials.
Mr Trump is scheduled to hold meetings with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, German chancellor Angela Merkel, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Mr Trump used his Fox interview to once again question the decades-old US-Japan security alliance that most experts say has played a critical role in maintaining peace in the Pacific. His comments will not be welcomed by Mr Abe who has gone to great lengths to flatter the US president in an effort to ward off such attacks.
Mike Green, a former top White House Asia adviser to George W Bush, said Mr Trump’s comments were “ignorant” because there were “few scenarios” for conflict in Asia where the US and Japan would not both be in harm’s way. “What does the president hope to gain by attacking the major ally who supports him more than any other?” he said.
Mr Trump is scheduled to meet Ms Merkel on Friday morning, in what will be their first bilateral meeting since the president criticised the German leader at a Nato summit in Brussels last summer.
He has repeatedly rebuked European countries that have not met the goal for each country to spend 2 per cent of gross domestic product on defence, but he has reserved his harshest attacks on Germany and Ms Merkel.
Mr Trump’s attacks on US allies and partners resurrected memories of the G7 meeting in Canada last year, where the president instructed his officials not to sign the communiqué after he took offence at comments by Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau. People familiar with Mr Trump’s view of large summits say he enjoys the G20 even less than the G7 because it is harder for him to remain the centre of attention among so many leaders.
As Mr Trump was flying to Osaka, he said in a tweet: “I’m on Air Force One, off the save the Free World!”
Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi
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