After converging in Osaka, Japan amid heavy rains, world leaders gathered on Friday morning for the traditional “family photo” that marks the start of the Group of 20 powwow. But beneath the smiling faces of the world’s most powerful people, tensions were brewing.
The year-long trade war between Beijing and Washington put the spotlight on Chinese President Xi Jinping, who made a beeline to shake hands with his US counterpart Donald Trump before the group picture, ahead of their high-stakes meeting on Saturday. It was the first time the two leaders had met in person since they called a truce on tariffs in December at the last G20 summit in Argentina – a ceasefire that ended last month as trade talks stalled.
In contrast, Xi and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were seen later in the day sitting together but not talking, amid frosty relations between the two countries.
Moments before the shoot, Trump had crossed the red carpet with Vladimir Putin, at one point placing his hand on the Russian president’s back as they walked to the steps for the photo. The 38 world leaders took their places in three rows, with host Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the centre of the first – flanked on the left by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Trump, and on the right by Argentine President Mauricio Macri, Putin and Xi.
Across the sea of men – including a stern-looking Trump – mostly in black and navy suits, British Prime Minister Theresa May stood out in a bright red suit, the same one she wore when announcing her resignation last month.
The G20, an event critics say has lost relevance in recent years, comes at a time of growing populism and polarisation around the globe – from political schisms in Europe to American protectionism under Trump and the intensifying US-China conflict.
At a forum dedicated to international economic cooperation, the handshakes and shoulder-rubbing could not mask the growing divisions in the global trading system, with the trade war between Beijing and Washington at the forefront.