President Donald Trump’s whiplash-inducing weekend at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan continues to make headlines that would have been months-long scandals for another administration. After laughing off the idea of scolding Vladimir Putin for his interference in the 2016 election, Trump offered lavish praise for the Saudi regime responsible for the brutal murder and dismemberment of a Washington Post journalist, teased new trade negotiations with China, and got into a tiff with former president Jimmy Carter. Finally, in an act of supplication to rival John Cusack in Say Anything, he begged North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to stop by and “say hello” during a stopover in South Korea. “If Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand,” he tweeted.
It was, somehow, a fitting conclusion to a wild 48 hours in Japan, where Trump alienated allies and sought out the comfort of fellow authoritarians, including Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. “It's an honor to be with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, a friend of mine, a man who has really done things in the last five years in terms of opening up Saudi Arabia,” Trump stated in remarks prior to breakfast with bin Salman, whom the CIA has concluded ordered the killing of journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Kashoggi last October. “I want to just thank you on behalf of a lot of people, and I want to congratulate you. You've done, really, a spectacular job.”
Pressed by CNN’s Jim Acosta later in the day, Trump deflected from M.B.S.’s alleged involvement in the killing, vaguely acknowledging they’d discussed the matter over breakfast. Instead, Trump pointed toward prosecutions already in motion, as well as the “millions of jobs” Saudi Arabia creates for American interests with the purchase of military equipment. “I'm extremely angry and unhappy about a thing like that taking place,” Trump stated. “But as of this moment, more than 13 people are being prosecuted, and I hear the numbers are going to be going up.”
Later—amid making time to fire back at Jimmy Carter and mocking Kamala Harris’s debate performance against Joe Biden—Trump turned his attention to China. A meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping heralded surprising developments in the escalating trade war with the United States, as Trump walked back plans to impose a 25% duty on yet another $300 billion worth of Chinese goods. “We’re holding on tariffs, and they’re going to buy farm product,” Trump told reporters after the meeting, although it was not immediately clear what he meant or whether the claim was true. The existing 25% duty on $250 billion of Chinese goods will remain in place, while the United States provided China with a list of U.S. products to buy. Prior to the meeting, China made a significant purchase of American soybeans, an agricultural market hit hard by the ongoing tariffs.
Trump also agreed to relax a trade ban imposed on Chinese telecommunications company Huawei, though the full extent of negotiations between the two countries remains ongoing. “China and the United States both benefit from cooperation and lose in a confrontation,” Xi told Trump during the meeting, according to Politico. “Cooperation and dialogue are better than friction and confrontation."
The G20 summit has otherwise largely concluded, but the train-wreck spectacle of Trump’s international tour is far from over. The North Koreans, for one, are apparently still grappling with Trump’s offer to cross the DMZ to shake hands. “I consider this a very interesting suggestion, but we have not received any official proposal,” said North Korean first vice foreign minister Choe Son-hui in a statement to the official Korean News Agency.