Donald Trump, the bull in the G20 china shop

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Riots, scores of injured policemen, Hamburg wreathed in smoke and chaos – and while all this G20 mayhem is unfolding the world’s leaders have been wearing photo-op smiles that conceal an anxiety not seen since the height of the Cold War.

And there is a lot to be anxious about, not least what the ever-unpredictable US President Donald Trump might do next. As even his senior aides have admitted, it’s anyone’s guess.

Start with Russia.

Trump and Kremlin boss Vladimir Putin did the ritual pressing of the flesh for the benefit of the press – Trump even gave his Russian counterpart a friendly pat on the back — before their private parley  but behind the duo’s public affability the tensions were mounting.

Once again it was all Trump’s doing.

Vladimir Putin gets a friendly pat on the back from Donald Trump, but their private talks weren’t likely to be so affable.

They shook each other’s hand and said that they would soon hold a separate meeting, would soon see each other,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Putin and Trump are due to hold detailed one-on-one talks on the sidelines of the summit.

Asked if Putin was looking forward to the talks and whether he had lots of questions for Trump, Peskov said that was the case.

The Russian leader had been fully briefed about Trump’s description on Thursday of Moscow’s behaviour as “destabilising”, Peskov added, and would take that and other remarks by US officials into account.

Kremlin spokesmen are not known for understatement, but saying that Putin is taking Trump’s speech in Warsaw “into account” is very much that.

Trump touched all of the hot-button issues that set alarm bells ringing in the Kremlin, calling on Moscow to end its “destabilizing activities” in Ukraine and elsewhere. He also criticised Putin for supporting “hostile regimes” in Syria and Iran and for not doing enough to combat global terrorism.

If Trump offered an olive branch it was a small one. Yes, he began when asked if he believed Russia had meddled in the election, but then added that other countries had likely done so as well.

“I think it was Russia, but I think it was probably other people and or countries … nobody really knows,” Mr. Trump said.

And then there is the North Korea crisis and Trump’s criticism of China for failing to curb its neighbour’s aggression and nuclear sabre rattling.

When China’s President Xi Jinping last spent time with Trump, at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, the then-newly inaugurated US leader launched a surprise missile blitz on Syria as a demonstration of his willingness to use force.

With North Korea crowing about the successful test of its first intercontinental missile and Trump saying it is intolerable that parts of the US are now within range, how might he exploit the Hamburg summit, and the attention of the world, to demonstrate once again that he is the polar opposite of Barack Obama?

The answer was not long in coming.

Even as the cameras clicked, two U.S bombers, accompanied by an escort of Japanese fighters, were flying over the disputed South China Sea in a demonstration of the US view that the region is international territory, despite China’s claims in the busy waterway.

And then there is the rest of the world.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to put the focus firmly on climate change – and here again Mr Trump is the fly in the ointment, having just withdrawn the US from the Paris Climate Accord.

That might well prove another source of friction with Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull, who first clashed with Trump when insisting the US honour its Obama-era promise to take asylum seekers from Manus and Nauru. Then came the PM’s lampooning of Mr Trump at the Mid Winter Ball in Canberra, with the audio of that imitation soon leaked to the media.

When the pair met yesterday it was smiles all around, at least in public.

Outside the conference centre anti-capitalists and anarchists were battling German police in ugly scenes that have so far left 110 officers injured. But protests were to be expected, given that demonstrations are as much a part of G20 parleys as diplomatic passports.

But Donald Trump predictable? That’s the question the world leaders are hoping won’t be answered in Hamburg.

By Rod Clune
-with AAP

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