Trump met with Putin after saying he would not: The president blusters his way through another G-20

Trump's performance at the G-20 summit is raising serious questions about his effectiveness at policymaking

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published December 3, 2018 11:56AM (EST)

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump as they gather for the group photo at the start of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump as they gather for the group photo at the start of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Donald Trump blustered his way through a G-20 summit that highlighted his tense relationships with world leaders and questionable grasp of his own administration policies, informally meeting with his Russian counterpart, despite loudly announcing that he would cancel his planned meeting with Vladimir Putin.

"As is typical at multilateral events, President Trump and the First Lady had a number of informal conversations with world leaders at the dinner last night, including President Putin," White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement on Saturday.

Trump also boasted about a trade deal he struck with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Although the president claimed that the trade deal he had struck with China was "one of the largest deals ever made" and insisted that the Chinese government "will be opening up" and "getting rid of tariffs," all of these assertions are directly contradicted by the White House's own statement on the matter, according to CNBC. In its own statement, the White House was much more modest in describing the achievements with China.

On Trade, President Trump has agreed that on January 1, 2019, he will leave the tariffs on $200 billion worth of product at the 10% rate, and not raise it to 25% at this time. China will agree to purchase a not yet agreed upon, but very substantial, amount of agricultural, energy, industrial, and other product from the United States to reduce the trade imbalance between our two countries. China has agreed to start purchasing agricultural product from our farmers immediately.

Mintaro Oba, a former U.S. State Department official under President Barack Obama, told CNBC that the president's comments reveal that "his number one priority is the appearance of being a great dealmaker. It doesn't matter to him what the details are, as long as he looks strong to his supporters."

Oba added, "When it comes to anything associated with him, especially deals, things can't just be good, they have to be best."

On the one hand, stocks jumped throughout the world as a result of the trade ceasefire between the United States and China, according to CNN. At the same time, the chasm between what Trump says and the reality of his policies has exacerbated the lack of respect felt toward America's president by other world leaders.

A recent report in Politico highlighted some of these tensions:

But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada at times looked as though he’d been taken hostage during the Friday signing of the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal, blank-faced and looking straight ahead as Trump touted their supposedly close relationship. Just hours before the signing, it wasn’t even clear whether Trudeau — who pointedly called the president by his first name during the ceremony and ignored Trump’s favored name for the agreement, USMCA, in favor of calling it the “new NAFTA” — would show up to the event.

The publication also discussed how Trump downplayed his more controversial world relationships, including with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

And while aides were braced for Trump to go off script — as he has at so many prior global gatherings — he was unusually disciplined. He spoke only briefly to Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom he had canceled a planned meeting over new Russian aggression against Ukraine (to hear Trump tell it) or new developments in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation (to hear the Kremlin tell it).

According to the White House, Trump also exchanged just a few words with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been widely condemned over the October killing of Jamal Khashoggi. In either case, a chummy photo op — like the infamous image of Putin and bin Salman yukking it up with one another — would have driven media coverage of Trump’s entire trip.


By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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Angela Merkel Canada China Donald Trump G-20 Germany Justin Trudeau Mexico Xi Jinping