At the G20, a focus on sideshow diplomacy and photo opps, with limited material gains



As always, sideline diplomatic meetings dominated the G20, while multilateral cooperation was fleeting.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Caitlin Byrne, Griffith University

What a weekend it’s been: global leadership, diplomacy and theatrics, all at play on the world stage. US President Donald Trump – never one to shy away from the spotlight — has dominated. Significant breakthroughs, including a pause in the escalating China-US trade war and the resumption of dialogue between the US and North Korea, have been achieved.

One might question the strategy and motivations behind Trump’s latest diplomatic engagements. Known for his unorthodox approach to diplomacy, Trump’s latest activities are more likely driven by the prospect of a fight in the 2020 US elections than a genuine concern for regional and global stability. Trump’s turn towards dialogue has averted the immediate disaster of a trade war and confrontation with North Korea, but the longer-term implications point to a more significant shake-up in global diplomacy.

Limited success and blurred optics

As host of the 2019 G20 summit, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is to be credited for his efforts in bringing global leaders together under what appeared to be difficult circumstances.

It was always going to be a tough meeting. Overshadowed by the US-China trade war, and set against a global backdrop of widening political fault lines, seething populism and fraying institutions, Abe certainly had his work cut out for him.




Read more:
Trade war tensions sky high as Trump and Xi prepare to meet at the G20


Just bringing together the leaders and other officials from 19 of the world’s biggest economies, plus the European Union, for a summit on global economic governance was, in itself, a major achievement. They were joined by a raft of invited guests, including the leaders of Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand, as well as representatives of key international organisations.

The summit delivered expected consensus support for “strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive economic growth”, alongside renewed commitments to reform the World Trade Organisation and agreement on key initiatives on digital innovation and e-commerce, financial inclusion for ageing populations, and marine plastics.

More importantly, it provided the much-needed platform for US-China dialogue, bringing the escalating trade war to a halt.

Ultimately, though, the G20 gains were limited. The final communiqué reflected the deep political tensions globally at the moment and the overriding domestic focus of many leaders. For example, it stopped short of affirming the G20’s customary commitment to anti-protectionist measures and included watered-down language on climate change action.

One might be forgiven for mistaking the leaders’ summit for a glorified photo opportunity. G20 pics – ranging from the rambling family photos of leaders and spouses to awkward moments on the sidelines — dominated the weekend Twittersphere.

Of course, optics matter, and the images revealed much about the diversity and dynamics at play within this “premier” economic forum. Trump’s friendly interactions with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, for instance, raised eyebrows and ire at home.

But it’s not all about the photo opps. The G20 leaders’ summit is the culmination of months of intense negotiations, and most importantly reinforces the underlying habits of cooperation so desperately needed for ongoing global economic stability.

Theresa May and Vladimir Putin shared one of the weekend’s more cringe-worthy moments.
Mikhail Metzel/Tass handout/EPA

Side-show diplomacy

As with any major summit, the G20 gathering offers the opportunity for leaders to engage in bilateral or minilateral discussions. For many, this is the main event, and for Abe, especially, the stakes on the sidelines at this G20 were high.

Saturday’s bilateral meeting between Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping did not disappoint, with both leaders agreeing to resume trade talks, stalled since the last G20 in Buenos Aires. Notably, Trump announced his suspension of some US$300 billion in threatened tariffs and eased restrictions on US companies selling components to Chinese telco, Huawei.




Read more:
US-China relations are certainly at a low point, but this is not the next Cold War


Other G20 sideline events, including Trump’s bilateral with Putin created their own drama, but it was Trump’s Saturday morning tweet suggesting a spontaneous visit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during his subsequent trip to Korea, that caught everyone off guard.

And with that, arrangements fell miraculously into place for Trump to take a historic first step for a sitting US president into North Korea, and for Kim and Trump to spend an hour in conversation in Freedom House on the South Korean side of the demilitarized zone.

Importantly, the two have now agreed to further talks intended to advance their ongoing denuclearization negotiations. Spectacle aside, there may well be positives to come from this interaction, but for the moment the endgame just isn’t clear.

Thumbs up for Morrison

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison performed remarkably well at his second G20 leaders’ summit, marking a positive turn from last time round.

To be fair, Morrison attended his first G20 summit in November just three months into his term as prime minister following the Coalition leadership spill. He was unknown and inexperienced at the time.




Read more:
In his first major foreign policy test, Morrison needs to stick to the script


In Japan, Morrison was attending his first G20 as Australia’s elected leader, with decent summitry experience and far more established relationships with his global counterparts in place. His key message – that a US-China trade war was in nobody’s interests – was well-prepared, and it resonated with key G20 counterparts.

Other highlights for Morrison included his dinner on the eve of the summit with Trump. While the press pool may have been unimpressed, the fact that this was Trump’s first bilateral event of the summit is significant, even if it was, as some suggest simply to fill a gap in Trump’s program. Trump’s reflection on the US alliance with Australia, and Morrison’s election win with Australia was replete with praise.

Scott Morrison had plenty of face-time with Donald Trump over the weekend.
Lukas Coch/AAP

More importantly, though, Morrison’s win on curbing terrorist activities via social media was an important contribution to the summit outcome. G20 leaders were unanimous in their backing for the proposal that would increase pressure on tech giants like Facebook to block or remove the spread of violent extremism online.

The fact that Morrison shared news of the outcome with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern added to the credibility of the concept within the G20 grouping and lifted its profile at home.

No clear path ahead

In all, the G20 summit was an important exercise in diplomacy and resulted in a positive outcome for Abe. This sort of cooperation is so desperately needed if the institutions, rules and norms underpinning economic governance are to carry any weight at all. And as Japan hands the G20 reins over to the 2020 host, Saudi Arabia, supporting diplomacy and cooperation will be more important than ever.

Trump’s sideshow-style diplomacy certainly stole the limelight. The resumption of dialogue with both China and North Korea reaffirms the necessary place of diplomacy in the region. But Trump is navigating dangerous territory, and the lack of clear strategy, dubious motivations and self-serving tactics should have everyone – including his allies – on guard.The Conversation

Caitlin Byrne, Director, Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Iraq Through the Lens


The link below is to an article that looks at the current situation in Iraq through the camera lens – well worth a look.

For more visit:
http://roadsandkingdoms.com/2014/a-lens-to-the-front/

Russia: Meteor in Russia – Photos


The link below is to a photo gallery of photos from Russia showing the meteor explosion that occurred recently.

For more visit:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/gallery/2013/feb/15/meteorite-explosion-russia-in-pictures

Article: Real Life Police Dramas


The link below is to an article that contains a number of photos/scans of newspaper articles reporting on police call outs. They demonstrate why society is so troubled these days – not.

For more visit:
http://twentytwowords.com/2013/02/15/what-the-police-get-called-about-in-one-of-americas-richest-towns-15-pictures/

The Bystander Effect: New York’s Train Death


The link below is to an article that considers the bystander effect following the death of a man who was hit by a train in New York. Rather than try and help the man, a photographer chose to take a photo instead.

For more visit:
http://bigthink.com/think-tank/would-you-save-this-mans-life-the-trolley-problem-revisited

China: Quadruplets Marked with Numbers for Easier Identification


In the ‘you have to be kidding’ category, the link below is to an article about how one Chinese couple decided to make it easier to identify their kids. 

For more visit (including a picture):
http://www.inspirefusion.com/quadruplets-marked-with-numbers-to-identify-easily/

Article: Amazing Origami Sculptures


So looking over a few Blogs and things this afternoon and came across this article on origami sculptures. There are some great examples included in the photos of this article. Someone may be interested in trying them out. Perhaps post a photo of your efforts here. Would be good to see any that people have tried.

For more visit:
http://www.inspirefusion.com/origami-sculptures/

What A Beat Up


  1. There can be no doubt that both Nick D’Arcy and Kenrick Monk have been rightly punished in the past for what they have done prior to the upcoming Olympic Games in the United Kingdom. It can probably be argued that they escaped fairly lightly in fact. However, the current ‘scandal’ surrounding both swimmers because they had a photo taken with some guns in the US is nothing more than a beat up, given they did nothing wrong in doing so.

    Below are Wikipedia articles on both swimmers, as well as reports pertaining to the current ‘scandal.’

Anti-Christian Sentiment Heats Up


Terrorist threat in Iraq emerges at importune moment for Copts.

CAIRO, Egypt, November 22 (CDN) — As bombings and other attacks continue against Christians in Iraq, Christians in Egypt have gathered to pray and plan for their own safety.

When a group of Islamic extremists on Oct. 31 burst into Our Lady of Salvation church in Baghdad during evening mass and began spraying the sanctuary with gunfire, the militant organization that took responsibility said Christians in Egypt also would be targeted if its demands were not met. Taking more than 100 congregants hostage, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) called a television station and stated that the assault came in response to the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt allegedly holding two Coptic women against their will who, the ISI and some others believe, converted to Islam.

The group issued a 48-hour deadline for the release of the women, and when the deadline passed it issued a statement that, “All Christian centers, organizations and institutions, leaders and followers are legitimate targets for the muhajedeen [Muslim fighters] wherever they can reach them.” The statement later added ominously, “We will open upon them the doors of destruction and rivers of blood.”

In the attack and rescue attempt that followed, 58 people were reportedly killed. A week and a half later, Islamic extremists killed four people in a series of coordinated attacks against Christians in Baghdad and its surrounding suburbs. The attackers launched mortar rounds and planted makeshift bombs outside Christian homes and one church. At least one attack was made against the family members of one of the victims of the original attack.

On Nov. 15, gunmen entered two Christian homes in Mosul and killed two men in the house. The next day, a Christian and his 6-year-old daughter were killed in a car bombing. At the same time, another bomb exploded outside the home of a Christian, damaging the house but leaving the residents uninjured, according to CNN.

The threats against Christians caused a flurry of activity at churches in Egypt. A 35-year-old Protestant who declined to give her name said Christians in Cairo have unified in prayer meetings about the threats. An SMS text message was sent out through prayer networks asking people to meet, she said.

“I know people are praying now,” she said. “We have times for our people to pray, so all of us are praying.”

Security has increased at churches throughout Egypt. In Cairo, where the presence of white-uniformed security police is ubiquitous, the number of uniformed and plain-clothes officers has doubled at churches. High-ranking police officers shuffle from one house of worship to another monitoring subordinates and enforcing new security rules. At times, parking on the same side of the street as a church building, or even driving by one, has been forbidden.

On Nov. 8, leaders from the Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox churches gathered to discuss how to improve security at churches. According to the leaders of several churches, the government asked pastors to cancel unessential large-scale public meetings. Pope Shenouda III canceled a celebration to commemorate the 39th anniversary of his installment as the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Guests at a recent outdoor Christmas bazaar and a subsequent festival at the All-Saints Cathedral in Zamalek
were greeted with pat-downs, metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs.

Some church leaders, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the security improvements are haphazard, while others say they are genuine efforts to ensure the safety of Christians.

Most Christians in Cairo avoided answering any questions about the attacks in Iraq or the threats made against Christians in Egypt. But Deliah el-Sowkary, a Coptic Orthodox woman in her 20s, said she hoped no attacks would happen in her country. Noting the security present at all churches, still she said she is not that worried.

“I think it’s different in Egypt than in Baghdad, it’s more safe here,” El-Sowkary said.

Almost a week after the bombings, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak issued a statement through the state-run MENA news agency that the Copts would be protected from attacks.

“The president affirmed his extensive solicitude for the protection of the nation’s sons, Muslims and Copts, from the forces of terrorism and extremism,” the agency stated.

 

Pressure Cooker

The security concerns came against a backdrop of heightened tensions between the Muslim majority and the Coptic Christian minority over the past few months, with weeks of protests against Christians in general and against Shenouda specifically. The protests, held mostly in Alexandria, ended two weeks ago.

The tension started after the wife of a Coptic priest, Camilia Zakher, disappeared in July. According to government sources and published media reports, Zakher left her home after a heated argument with her husband. But Coptic protestors, who started gathering to protest at churches after Zakher disappeared, claimed she had been kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam.

Soon after, Egypt’s State Security Intelligence (SSI) officers found her at the home of a friend. Despite stating she had left of her own free will, authorities brought Zakher back to her husband. Since then, Zakher has been in seclusion. It is unclear where she is or if she remains there of her own free will.

Unconfirmed rumors began spreading that Zakher had converted to Islam and was being held against her will to force her to return to Christianity. Protests outside mosques after Friday prayers became weekly events. Protestors produced a photo of unknown origin of a woman in Islamic covering whom they claimed was Zakher. In response, Coptic authorities released a video in which the priest’s wife stated that she wasn’t a Muslim nor ever had been.

Another rumor began circulating that Zakher went to Al-Azhar University, one of the primary centers of Islamic learning in the world, to convert to Islam. But Al-Azhar, located in Cairo, released a statement that no such thing ever happened.

No independent media interviews of Zakher have taken place because, according to the Coptic Church, the SSI has ordered church officials not to allow public access to her. Along with their accusations about Zakher, protestors also claimed, without evidence, that a similar thing happened in 2004 to Wafa Constantine, also the wife of a Coptic Orthodox priest. Constantine was the second woman the ISI demanded the Copts “release.” Like Zakher, her location is not public knowledge.

The month after the Zakher incident, Egyptian media reported in error that the SSI had seized a ship from Israel laden with explosives headed for the son of an official of the Coptic Orthodox church. The ship was later found to be carrying fireworks, but another set of Islamic leaders, led in part by Nabih Al-Wahsh, an attorney famous for filing lawsuits designed to damage the church, declared without any evidence that Copts were allied with the Israelis and stockpiling weapons in the basements
of their churches with plans to overthrow the Muslim majority.

The claims were echoed on Al-Jazeera by Dr. Muhammad Salim Al-’Awa, the former secretary-general of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, and in a statement issued by the Front of Religious Scholars, a group of academics affiliated with Al-Azhar University.

There was no time for tensions to cool after Al-’Awa and the others leveled their allegations. The next month, Bishop Anba Bishoy, the secretary of the Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church, told the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masri Al-Yawm that Muslims were “guests” in Egypt, inflaming a Muslim population already up in arms.

“The Copts are the root of the land,” the bishop said. “We love the guests who came and settled in our land, and regard them as brothers, but they want to control even our churches? I reject anything that harms the Muslims, but as Christians we will do everything, even die as martyrs, if someone tries to harm our Christian mission.”

Around the same time, the Front of Religious Scholars called for a complete boycott of Christians in Egypt. The group called Christians “immoral,” labeled them “terrorists” and said Muslims should not patronize their businesses or even say “hello” to them.

The statement by the scholars was followed by a media leak about a lecture Bishoy was scheduled to give at a conference for Orthodox clergy. In his presentation, Bishoy planned on questioning the authorship of a verse in the Quran that calls Christians “blasphemers.” Muslims believe that an angel revealed the Quran to Muhammad, Islam’s prophet, who transmitted it word-by-word to his followers. Bishoy contended there was a possibility the verse in question was added later.

The mosque protests became even more virulent, and the conference was abruptly cancelled. Bishoy was forced to issue an apology, saying he never meant to cast doubt on Islam and called Muslims “partners” with the Copts in Egypt. Shenouda also issued an apology on national television. By comparison, an Islamic publishing house that rewrote and then issued what it termed the “true Bible” caused barely a stir.

Al-’Awa then blamed the deteriorating state of Muslim-Christian relations on Shenouda and Bishoy. He accused the Coptic Orthodox Church of exploiting the government’s “weak stance” toward it and “incarcerating anyone [who] is not to its liking.”

The Al-Azhar Academy of Islamic Research issued a statement that declared, “Egypt is a Muslim state.” The statement further went on to read that the Christians’ rights were contingent on their acceptance of the “Islamic identity” of Egypt. The statement was endorsed by Ali Gum’a, the mufti of Egypt.

The statement also referenced an agreement made between Muhammad and a community of Egyptian Christians in the seventh century as the guiding document on how Christians should be governed in a Muslim-dominated state. If ever codified into Egyptian law as many Muslims in Egypt desire, it would legally cement the status of Christians in the country as second-class citizens.

In 639, seven years after Muhammad died, Muslim armies rode across from Syria and Palestine and invaded Egypt, then controlled by the Byzantines. At first the Muslims, then a new but well-armed minority within Egypt, treated the conquered Christians relatively well by seventh century standards. But within a generation, they began the Islamization of the country, demanding all official business be conducted in Arabic, the language of the Quran, and Coptic and Jewish residents were forced to pay special taxes and obey rules designed to reaffirm their second-class status.

In the centuries since then, the treatment of Christians in Egypt has ebbed and flowed depending on the whim of those in power. After the coup of 1952, in which a group of men known as the Free Officers’ Movement took power from a European-backed monarch, Copts have seen their treatment decline.

In 1971, then-President Anwar Sadat introduced a new constitution designating Islamic law as “a principle source of legislation” in Egypt. In 1980, the National Assembly made Islam the official religion of the state.

Estimates of the Coptic population range from 7 to 12 percent of Egypt’s 84 million people. They are accepted by some in Egypt and openly discriminated against by others. Violent attacks against Christians – which the government does little to prevent – accentuate tensions.

The state also routinely harasses converts to Christianity from Islam. Many have to live in some sort of hiding.

The Protestant woman said she was not sure whether attacks would happen in response to the threats, but whatever happens, she said she expects that Christians in Egypt will continue to endure persecution.

“According to the Bible, we know this is going to happen,” she said. “This is not new or novel for us. The Bible said that we will be persecuted. It is expected.”

Report from Compass Direct News

Plinky Prompt: My Favorite Photo of Me


Why do I like this photo of myself? Well, I don’t have a lot of photos of myself and this is a recent one too. So that would be the reason. I use it as a profile photo on social networks, etc.

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