It's somewhat difficult to believe, but there were things going on at the G-20 without Trump around.
The most-concrete pact to come out of the summit is that the European Union agreed a free-trade treaty with the Mercosur bloc of South American nations.
That has taken 20 years of trade talks. The E.U. is the South American bloc's biggest trading partner, and the Europeans will now save €4 billion (US$4.6 billion) on import duties into the Latin American nations -- or four times the value saved in the recent E.U. trade deal with Japan.
The European Union will get easier access for its cars, which currently face 35% tariffs, as well as wine and cheese. The South Americans will see no tariffs on orange juice, instant coffee and fruit shipments into Europe, and will have a 7.5% quota on beef imports, and a 0% tariff quota on sugar and poultry.
The opening act to the U.S.-China meeting was the conference between Abe and Xi. That curtain raiser before the start of the Friday-Saturday summit saw the two men pose with strained smiles on their faces, in sharp contrast to a notorious frown of disdain that Xi assumed on his first meeting with Abe.
Both leaders promised to safeguard multilateralism and free trade together, Abe saying he wanted to take bilateral ties to the "next level," from competition to cooperation. Xi said he wants to strengthen high-level strategic leadership with Abe, and build "a Sino-Japanese relationship that meets the demands of the new era."
An Abe With Guts
Japan's foreign press secretary confirmed that the prime minister pointed out the importance of maintaining "a free, open and prosperous Hong Kong under the 'One Country, Two Systems' formula" with the recent demonstrations in mind.
That is making Hong Kong activists very happy. They had run full-page newspaper ads in black and white calling for countries to "Stand with Hong Kong at G-20." The activists cobbled together HK$5.5 million (US$700,000) in crowdsourced funding in a matter of hours to pay for placement in 10 major papers from G20 nations, including The New York Times, the Japan Times, the Guardian of the United Kingdom, The Globe and Mail in Canada, The Chosun Ilboin South Korea and the Süddeutsche Zeitungin Germany.
Abe's question could have come at some cost. A top Chinese official had said Beijing "will not allow Hong Kong issues to be discussed at the G-20 summit," banging the usual drum that "Hong Kong affairs are Chinese domestic affairs, any foreign force has no right to interfere in this." To which it's worth noting that China signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong with Britain and lodged it as an official legally binding document with the United Nations.
Thank you, Abe, on behalf of Hong Kong! Despite that awkward moment, Xi promised to make a state visit to Japan in the spring of 2020, shortly before the Tokyo Olympics in the summer.
Abe met with Putin, too. They didn't get anywhere on the territorial dispute over the four Kuril islands seized by Russia during World War II. Japan calls them its "Northern Territories," a short sail north of Hokkaido, and wants them back. Instead, the two leaders agreed to launch new initiatives to expand economic ties and tourist exchanges.
Prime Minister Abe, as the host, has had the last word. He chose to make them about trade and the environment.
Agreements and Common Ground... Mostly
The Japanese leader had been hoping to make the Osaka summit a landmark event for the environment. Before the event, French President Emanuel Macron said he did not want to sign any G20 communiqué without mention of the Paris Climate Agreement.
But the 19 other members, 18 nations as well as the European Union, have again been frustrated by the United States.
Abe said the G-20 members had found "common ground," although they harbor "big differences" on climate change. The member nations have at least agreed to attempt to eliminate emissions of plastic waste into waters of world's oceans by 2050.
Leaders said they'd look into "a wide range of clean technologies and approaches, including smart cities, ecosystem and community based approaches." But the United States again reiterated its decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change "because it disadvantages American workers and taxpayers."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said some leaders are willing to raise commitments to curb greenhouse gases aiming for "net zero" by 2050. The other 19 nations commit to the Paris accord. "This process cannot be turned around," she said, as the summit concluded.