While the collective eyes of the word were focused on Brisbane for the gathering of the Group of Twenty (G20), the scribes of the world were tripping over each other to cover every minute detail. The international newswires reporting on the conference had a number of interesting things to say about the event and the politicians who took part — and of course, koalas got a star turn.
Obviously, every country has a wide variety of publications, ranging from Left of centre to Right of Franco and it’s impossible to cover them all here (India alone has 70,000 newspapers). But let’s take a moment to see what some of the national and international publications ran regarding the G20.
Our own media focused firstly on Russian President Vladimir Putin, secondly on Prime Minister Tony Abbott. A brief mention of a “shirt-front” helped shape the overall tone of the summit and the media’s love affair with the comment was almost as strong as the “bromance” between Abbott and British Prime Minister David Cameron. But even that wasn’t strong enough to peel us away from the “will they/won’t they?” feeling shared by Abbott and Putin.
Putin was less prevalent in the American media, although he did get a mention; instead, America looked heavily at what it values most — American trade relations with China. Some inside the White House commented that United States President Barack Obama “believes that a trade deal will define his legacy” before he has even set foot in China for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
After the Sino-American historic agreement to fight climate change and promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, American world news was dominated by Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The deal itself was seen less favourably by some than others, but regardless of how they reported it, everyone was talking about it. Secretary of State John Kerry says the deal was product of “the world’s most consequential relationship”. In fact, compared to APEC, G20 had far less coverage. Apart from Obama’s koala photo-op and the city of Brisbane itself proving to a curiosity for American media, saying it “arguably hasn’t seen this much excitement since World Expo ’88” the event was far less significant to America than its Asian predecessor.
Canada and the UK
Leaders of our related Anglophone countries were similar in their comportment at the summit. Prime Minister David Cameron and Prime Minister Stephen Harper might have been the same person: a conservative who used the opportunity to take a hard-line stance on Putin.
“Well, I guess I’ll shake your hand, but I only have one thing to say to you: you need to get out of Ukraine.” Harper told Putin, although Cameron also didn’t miss a change to stand up (in front of a microphone) to Putin, saying: “In the end I don’t believe what is happening is in Russia’s best interests.”
Apart from tackling Putin, Cameron also tackled what he called flashing red lights “on the dashboard of the global economy”, warning of the threat to the global stability and European Union economy as a result.
While Britain and her descendants focused on Putin and climate change (apart from one), China was more interested in reporting the great effort Xi put into furthering trade and relations with the West.
Xi wants trade. He wants to trade a lot, to trade with Europe, the US and Australia. Chinese media reported just how well China’s presence was being felt on the international market, cheering on Xi and never failing to mention how the rest of the world was doing the same; like the article “Overseas scholars laud Chinese president’s G20 speech”.
The Indian media reported on the cult of personality following Prime Minister Narendra Modi whenever he journeys abroad. While the Indian media addressed all of the key points of the summit, it was the prospect that Modi might encounter the same kind of crowd in Sydney after the G20 as he did in New York last year that exited Indian papers. Declarations of a “euphoric” kind of “Modi fever” gripping Sydney had Indians interested the world over, with the Deccan Chronicle claiming, “Sydney, otherwise known for its three Bs — beer, beaches, and barbecues — has a ‘M’ coming its way”.
The term “black money” also filled the Indian headlines. Modi, praised for his economic policies, has made it publicly know he wants to curb corruption in India, with the G20 serving as another means to do that.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Modi to discuss the issue of German being dropped from the school curriculum throughout India, and while the Indian press focused on this meeting, the German press focused on the world’s most powerful woman meeting the world’s most infamous man: Vladimir Putin. Merkel’s language wasn’t as harsh as Harper’s or Abbott’s, but for several hours the German Chancellor and Russian President discussed Ukraine, Crimea and sanctions. This was done after long talks about the global and European economy with other world leaders.
Seen by many Germans as boring, Merkel’s appearance in a number of selfies did not go unnoticed, with Speigel Online referring to her “as the coolest participant in the G20” — although Germany didn’t report on the Chancellor sightings as heavily as Australia did.
Finally, the man of the hour, Vladamir Putin — though the Russian media was more concerned with their Western counterparts than with Putin’s performance. Noticing the hard language deployed against Putin, Russian media slammed back with articles like “Brisbane: Can we please concentrate on the issues?”. Other papers joined rank and file in criticising what they called “a tiny bunch of Anglo-Saxon political buffoons” for using the summit to attack Putin.
Despite that, Russian media did say the summit was an opportunity to further “progress in the dialogue with partners”.
Ukraine was unsurprisingly covered in depth, with the discussions held between Russia and Germany seen as one of the most important moments of G20. The Russian press also addressed Putin leaving the summit early, saying it was a “mistake” on his part.
As the dust settles on Brisbane and the delegations fly home, many commentators will ask what was achieved this year, whether it was all worth it and how this G20 will be remembered.
The first two will take some time to figure out, the third one is simple: Putin and koalas.