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How Trump’s unconventional diplomacy will affect the G-20

President Trump has traveled to Argentina for the two-day G-20 summit, where he’ll meet with American allies and adversaries alike. A lot is at stake for his talks with China’s president, Xi Jinping, as Trump is expected to boost tariffs on Chinese goods to 25 percent in January. In addition, Trump's interactions with Saudi Arabia will be in the spotlight. Nick Schifrin reports from Buenos Aires.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported earlier, President Trump will take part in the G20 summit of the world's largest economies beginning tomorrow in Buenos Aires.

    As Nick Schifrin reports from the summit's site, a meeting that is supposed to produce a global guide for how countries can work together is instead exposing global division.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Ten years ago, the housing market burst and the world economy crashed. Out of that crisis, the G20 leaders meeting was born, and heads of state or governments that control 85 percent of world GDP came to consensus that prevented economic calamity.

    But, today, after a tense summer of summits, that unity is fragile or nonexistent. President Trump's critics blame him for turning friendly-fire on U.S. allies.

  • Heather Conley:

    They feel that they cannot trust the United States anymore. This is not just Europe. It's very concentrated in Europe, of course, but our Asian allies feel off-balance as well. And this is going to take a long time to rebuild that important trust, when it's broken.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But the president's defenders say tough talk is less important than policy results, and the G20 will continue the president's progress born from pressure.

  • Rebeccah Heinrichs:

    The argument has been, you don't have to berate. But, in fact, it's been berating that has actually produced results, and that's the uncomfortable truth.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    To try and produce more results, Mr. Trump's main event will be China, a working dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

  • Elizabeth Economy:

    All eyes within the United States and China and really globally are looking to see whether or not the two largest economies in the world will be able to strike a trade deal. We have not seen the relationship in such a difficult place in decades.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The immediate conflict with China is trade. On January 1, the U.S. is scheduled to raise tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods from 10 percent to 25 percent.

    Mr. Trump has threatened additional tariffs on $267 billion of Chinese imports, and projects confidence.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I'm very prepared. I have been preparing for it all my life. You know, it's not like, oh, gee, I'm going to sit down and study. I know every ingredient. I know every stat. I know it better than anybody knows it.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    That confidence is echoed by China's Xi and his implicit criticisms of President Trump.

  • Xi Jinping (through translator):

    Resorting to old practices, such as protectionism and unilateralism, will not resolve problems, and will add to the uncertainties to the global economy.

  • Elizabeth Economy:

    We have to recognize that Xi Jinping is a far more ambitious leader for China, and that his vision for China, both China internally and in terms of Chinese foreign policy, is one that is going to bring it into conflict with the United States in fundamentally new and different ways.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Elizabeth Economy is the Council on Foreign Relations' Asia director and author of a new book about Xi Jinping. She says Xi reflects China's military, economic, and diplomatic expansion, especially the global, multitrillion-dollar initiative called the Belt and Road, which is exactly what the Trump administration is trying to confront.

  • Vice President Mike Pence:

    The United States deals openly, fairly. We do not offer a constricting belt or a one-way road. The United States, though, will not change course until China changes its ways.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But with U.S. stock market swings and farmers' concerns about Chinese retaliation, President Trump's advisers say he's open to a trade deal. And Xi is also under pressure.

  • Elizabeth Economy:

    The Chinese economy has really begun to feel the effects of this trade war. Stock market is down 30 percent. We have seen that the auto markets and commercial real estate and household real estate are all down. President Xi has a lot of incentive at this point to try to come to some sort of accommodation.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    On Russia, there will be no accommodation between Presidents Trump and Putin at the G20, after Mr. Trump canceled their bilateral, citing Ukrainian soldiers paraded on Russian TV after Russian ships attacked their boats in international waters.

    But Mr. Trump tweeted he looked forward to a — quote — "meaningful summit" with Putin as soon as the situation is resolved.

    The president avoids criticizing Putin directly, leading his critics to call his Russia policy inconsistent and estranged from European allies.

    Heather Conley is the Europe director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former State Department official.

  • Heather Conley:

    If we don't work with our allies, we aren't going to accomplish all that we wish to accomplish. And none of that preparatory work has been done.

    We are creating this one-on-one dynamic, where the U.S. will have a powerful position, but it could be so much stronger with allies.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But President Trump has prioritized personal relationships with leaders from Kim Jong-un to Putin, while his administration's policy confronts Russia by strengthening NATO's presence in Europe and imposing sanctions, argues Hudson Institute senior fellow Rebeccah Heinrichs.

  • Rebeccah Heinrichs:

    The policy has been very tough between the United States towards Russia under President Trump. He's just not going to openly embarrass him or humiliate him on the world stage. He's trying to have this relationship of mutual respect, while the United States continues to be unrelenting in pursuing our interests.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    On Saudi Arabia, the Trump administration says it's pursuing its interests by backing perhaps the most controversial G20 attendee, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who visited Tunisia this week, despite significant protests.

    The CIA assessed that MBS, as he's widely known, likely ordered the October murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi shortly after he walked into the Istanbul Consulate. His death was recorded, but National Security Adviser John Bolton this week said he refused to listen to the audio because he wouldn't understand the Arabic.

  • John Bolton:

    What, you want me to listen to it? What am I going to learn from — I mean, if they were speaking Korean, I wouldn't learn any more from it either.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Well, much of the focus in Washington has been on who the president is supporting or who he is meeting, the focus here in Buenos Aires has been on the sherpas.

    That's the informal name for the diplomats who are negotiating the final G20 document. That's supposed to be a kind of blueprint for how the world is supposed to work together. But in these days of international disunity, diplomats say those talks have been tense and difficult.

    The main disputes are over climate change and U.S. resistance to mentioning the requirements of the Paris climate agreement, which the U.S. is no longer part of. And there's tensions over trade and tariffs. G20 documents usually reject protectionism, but this year is being watered down.

    That's another sign historic U.S. dominance is declining and nationalism and protectionism is increasing. But the president's defenders believe these summit documents, these moments of multilateralism, aren't as important as national interests.

  • Rebeccah Heinrichs:

    It's not that multilateralism, in and of itself, is the problem. It's just that often you have such divergent interests of the different parties, that it's very difficult to come to an outcome that's going to benefit the United States in the end.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But just as they did last year, the G20 leaders will come together, because, as a European official put it, sometimes, you have no choice but to try and work together.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin in Buenos Aires.

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