Some people will spend a bit of their time reading the official picture of the 2019 G20 Meeting just held in Osaka. These types of pictures contain many hints. They cannot be taken lightly. The protocol and the political seniors of the host country – in this case, the Japanese who are masters in matters of meaning and symbology – invest a lot of working days deciding the positioning of everyone in the picture. Their final choice has a deep political import.
This year’s photo gives special attention to the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He stands at the centre, between the host, Prime Minister Shinto Abe, and the US President. We could think that such placing might be related to the fact that Abe is just back from a visit to Iran and he wanted to show that he also pays special attention to the diplomacy towards Saudi Arabia. Maybe he would love it to be interpreted that way. But it is just a happy coincidence for the Japanese. Abe is close to the Crown Prince because Saudi Arabia will be organising the next G20 Meeting, in November next year.
That’s the reason why the President of Argentina, Mauricio Macri, is also on the front row. The last meeting took place in his country (2018). That’s protocol.
Then, the rest of the front row brings together some of usual suspects: the leaders of China, Russia, Germany and France. But also, some special friends of Japan. First, two close neighbours, South Korea and Indonesia. And three other countries representing other regions of the world: Brazil, Turkey and South Africa. Surprising is to see Prime Minister Modi emerging in the second row. That’s not where India should be.
On the last row, a bit lost as he looks in the wrong direction, we can find the UN Secretary-General. This is not new. It has nothing to do with António Guterres. To place the UN boss in the background has been the tradition. I always thought such positioning sends a very inappropriate signal. The UN must be better recognised by the world leaders, particularly in a meeting that deals with global issues. It is important to battle for that.
In the end, my overall assessment of the meeting is positive. Many people might say these summits have no real purpose and are not useful. That’s a respectable way of looking at them. I want to take the opposite view, particularly in respect of this one. We are living in a period of tensions and great complexities. These leaders have the power to make it go in the right direction. They represent most of the world’s population and 85% of the global economy. When they meet and send some positive messages, the world feels a little bit more hopeful.